There’s a woman at the grocery store who charms me with her effervescence. She wants me to know she’s happy, and she wants me to be happy, too. No, I don’t think she’s mentally ill. But she’s willing to push the boundaries of normalcy with her headband tiara, her pink glitter high-tops, and her tie-dyed skirt as she waves her silver wand to point shoppers toward the next open register in the self-checkout aisle. Surprising. I’d say she’s 30-something, with clear eyes and a sturdy good mood. Of course, I notice her regalia, but I also notice that she seems to like her job working as a customer service associate at Kroger. Her job is to show us kindness.
Like Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, she points the way to a more satisfying shopping experience smiling at each of us as we belly up to the robot that will eat our money. I like self-checkout because it’s faster and I can pack my own groceries into my bags. I’m phobic about people touching my stuff and I’m very fussy about how my bags are packed. So, give me self-checkout any time. Glenda seems to understand that about me and backs away once I show my skill with the barcode reader.
With other less experienced customers she hovers, watching and waiting for a chance to do her magic. Some, mostly older, are ornery. Not everyone wants to be in the self-checkout aisle doing tasks they feel should be done by cashiers paid to pick-up their purchases, pass them over a scanner and shove them into the bagging area. Some customers resent self-checkout, as though they’re being robbed of the portion of their money that would have gone to pay the cashier. I understand. They feel like they’re paying for a service they’re not getting. Like how some people felt when (everywhere but Oregon) we had to start pumping our own gas at the filling station. There were complaints about that, too.
Often lately there aren’t enough cashiers on duty in the regular check-out aisles. The lines are long, and shoppers have to choose between waiting or self-checkout. Some grumble that the cashier shortage is a conspiracy to replace people with robots. Ornery turns to anger at the machines. I start to see Glenda’s princess costume as a flak jacket. She’s there to sprinkle fairy dust on toads with her patient instruction and cheerful tone. When an elderly man struggles with his bananas, she makes a kind suggestion, demonstrates, and then hovers to be sure he completes his transaction. As he picks up his bag to leave, she blurts “Good job!” on tiptoe with her wand in the air.
Now we’ve crossed paths for a year, and she recognizes me. I heave a 20 lb. bag of dog chow up to the barcode scanner and as she passes, she waves her wand in a wide arc over my head as if she’s casting a spell. “You are a superstar!” she says loudly, and I feel everyone looking at me as I wither inside, cringing with humiliation at this attention to my most pedestrian accomplishment. But she doesn’t see it. I feel like a loser because I’m being complimented by the self-checkout fairy for successfully scanning my groceries. But there she is smiling like we’re friends. Are we? Sparkling like it’s a beautiful moment in our lives. Is it? Waiting for my reply. I blush. I’m an asshole and she is darling. She just wants me to reflect her shining back at her, to receive her kindness and be better for it. And that’s so sweet it could almost make me cry. So, I look her in the eye and smile and say thank you. And she is absolutely delighted. Kindness is enough.
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The Power of Kindness: the ripple effect of being nice by Calvin Holbrook at Happiness.com