Monday, December 7, 2009

Tough times don't excuse small injustices

Published March 2009 in Salem Monthly

What's so hard about going through life with a sense of humanity?

I went into a fast food restaurant the other day and while I was placing an order, a young woman stepped up to the register beside mine.

Words were quietly exchanged and pieces of paper changed hands. The employee at the counter then turned to the ones prepping food and loudly declared there was someone at the register looking to turn in a job application.

"During the lunch rush? Who does that?" was the response. At damn near full yell.

Following quickly was another comment that seemed equally contemptuous, but I didn't catch it. Obviously embarrassed, the job-seeker quietly made her exit, asking the cashier to make sure the application found the right hands.

Now, I can understand getting caught up in the pressure of the moment. I can understand letting your mouth act before your head can catch up. I can even take good-hearted jokes spoken a bit too harshly.

It was none of those. It was an attempt to demean, belittle and humiliate for no other reason than being able to do it, and as publicly as possible. It didn't need to happen. The culprit was well past the age of knowing better, and even if she wasn't, it was inappropriate.

I'm not going to list the many and varied reasons the job applicant might have arrived during the lunch hour, because, in the end, it doesn't matter. Showing up at all might have been the most difficult part of her day. In that moment, when she hoped, or possibly needed, to feel the kindness of strangers. They not only turned their backs, they laughed at her.

Unfortunately, this felt like something we are going to see more and more of in the coming months.

It doesn't matter who you are - a shift manager slinging burgers at a fast food chain, a CEO raking in millions in tax-payer paid bonuses, a custodian wiping down benches at the mall, or the editor of the local alternative newspaper - none of us is better than the stranger we pass on the street or the one who comes to us, hat in hand, looking for work.

We're all humans and we're facing tough times. I've felt it. I have friends who are feeling it worse. The easiest thing we can do in response is show each other an ounce of respect.

It doesn't cost a thing.

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