“For it was authority that turned men suspicious and stern-faced. Authority and responsibility which made them not themselves, but a sort of corporate body that tried to think as a corporate body rather than a person.”
― Clifford D. Simak, Time Is the Simplest Thing
I truly believe I have one of the greatest part-time jobs in the entire world. I am an eccentric barista at a local Bakehouse; a classy, beautiful, coffee shop that expels the bewitching aroma of baking bread and fresh-brewed coffee. The windows are plenty and the ceilings are tall with the walls a deep, maroon and blue allowing for plenty of natural light to infiltrate. Classy jazz greats the inner ear, and thus are all senses exemplified. What makes my job so marvelous is not only the location of origin, but also the people with whom I work. They are a crew of the most Enlightened and wonderful people who are so ready to serve and who are so ready to encourage. They fill me with insurmountable joy whenever I get the pleasure of seeing them, and they teach me so much about life.
Sometimes, though, the days get long. The shifts become double. The machines breakdown. Time becomes unending. All I want to do is lay on the ground and plant my feet up a wall to let all the blood de-coagulate from my ankles. And in these moments do I truly realize how I treat customers. How I treat those whom I serve.
I have a bad habit of dehumanizing the customer, and I think this is a trend that is rising amongst customer service jobs. Perhaps it’s been like this forever and I just never realized it. But I definitely realize it now.
It’s so easy to get frustrated at this customer. It’s not even a person, it’s a consumerist machine with money that they know your boss wants. The sooner you get them what they want the sooner they will leave and you can get back to doing something meaningful.
When I take this approach, I miss out on something really beautiful, though. I miss out on getting to know this person as a person and not as an object. Because objects have no stories, no possibilities for enhancing humanity, no perspective. People have perspective and people have ideas.
Where would we be as a society if we started treating more people like people?
At the end of the shift, when I get to punch in those four magical numbers to clock out, ultimately I feel satisfaction almost exclusively if I spent my shift taking meaningful time to get to know other peoples’ perspectives. If I didn’t care to humanize the customer, I leave the shift fixated on all the frustrating moments that happened during the day, or all of the times I was interrupted to go serve the consumer.
Yeah, usually engaging in a short but meaningful conversation about “So what have you been up to today?” or “Have you had a busy day so far?” with some customers may make the shift take an extra half hour to close, but isn’t a half-an-hour worth that feeling of immense mutual satisfaction?
I think it is.
I have one specific co-barista who is truly excellent at humanizing the customer. He offers genuine compliments, he makes good observations, he engaged the customer in things the person is passionate about. He makes jokes. He laughs with the customer. He essentially invites the person to a friendship.
When I get the pleasure to make drinks while my co-barista runs the register, I have a vastly more meaningful shift that when I am busy oscillating around performing closing duties disengaged from any bothersome customer.
So this leads me to meditate on two things:
- I strongly support the Dalai Lama when he says that, “there is no need for temples. No need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness”. The only way that humanity can function optimally is through kindness. This is a universal truth. Love is expressed relative to a culture; religon and spiritual connection are also relative. Kindness and compassion are universal.
2. We were not made to simply get things done. There is a reason why vacations and “me-time” are so necessary; because getting stuff done does not satisfy us. It doesn’t satisfy us because it wasn’t what we were made to do or made to be. Of course there is no satisfaction that comes from sacrificing a meaningful conversation for the purpose of completing a task. And of course there is no satisfaction that comes from treating a customer as a task to be completed as opposed to a human.
So I leave you with this musing.
What ways, what simple, attainable ways can you humanize the people you pass in the streets? In what way can you treat people like agents and not objects? And what would this mean for us?
What might this do for humanity if we all treated each other like people?
Rather than looking for explanations for why all people deserve to be treated with compassion and respect, we ought to be working at creating a world in which people are treated with compassion and respect. Human rights aren’t lying around waiting to be discovered. They’re made, not found.”
― David Livingstone Smith,