Tuesday, January 4, 2011

P4E.195 No Help Wanted

I've learned that unusual circumstances provide opportunities to test my own ability to respond, to learn something about myself and that they prompt me to ask important questions. Here's a recent unusual circumstance:

I went to Lowes and used the self-checkout there. There's always an employee ready to assist if you need help. I had purchased some bottled waters and selected the "Skip Bagging" option because it was a heavy item. This time the machine prompted "Assistance Needed to Approve Skipped Bagging." The checker came over and did the approval.

I intended to pay part with cash and part with my debit card. I inserted the cash and was prompted to pay the balance. At this point, the checker noticed that I was doing some extra steps and approached again. Without speaking, he took my debit card from me and slid it through the machine. I didn't exactly know what he was doing, or why he was doing it, so I didn't object. He directed me, "Enter your PIN number," which I did. When the machine prompted, "Cash Back?" he reached in front of me and pressed "No." When the machine prompted, "Is This the Correct Amount?" he pressed "Yes." When the machine prompted, "Take Your Receipt," he took the receipt out and handed it to me with my debit card. Without a word, he went back to his post. This all took a matter of seconds and since I was unsure why he was doing what he was doing, I never objected.

As I walked out of the store, I tried to figure out what had just happened. And then it hit me. "I think he thought I was so old that I needed help." (I'm in my mid-50's, but I don't think I look THAT old!) And then, "He made decisions for me. They WERE the decisions I would have made anyway, but he presumed that I did not want cash back." "He thought I was helpless and dull and slow. He did not ask me any questions, he just assumed that I needed help and took over." "Why didn't I stop him and tell him his help wasn't necessary?" "I guess I just didn't want to be rude. I just let him go ahead and help me even though I didn't really need his help. Whatever."

How did it make me feel? Well, frankly, a little embarrassed at first. Do I really look that old and helpless? Then some indignation set in. "He did not ask me if I needed help or if I wanted cash back or any questions at all." The way he took over the decision-making made me feel bullied." I felt robbed of my opportunities to make decisions. Ultimately, I felt ignored and left-out.

I'm also learning that these unusual physical circumstances are allowed by God to teach me spiritual lessons. These emotions affect my spirit and have spiritual consequences. Most importantly, I've learned to ask myself if I've made others (especially my wife) feel these same emotions. Almost every time now, when I ask my wife if I have made her feel an emotion, she smiles and says "Of course you have. Do you remember when...?" and she will describe situations where I've made her feel embarrassed, indignant, bullied, robbed, ignored and left-out.

"Ah! It makes me feel awful to know that I've made you feel those things. I KNOW now how that feels. I'm soooo sorry! Please forgive me! I'll try my best to not make you feel those things ever again."

Unless the hurt is too deep and takes more than a little time to heal, she is usually so gracious to accept my apology and forgive me. This is how it works. This is what I'm talking about.

Happy New Year!


  1. I'm so sorry you were treated like that, Kim. Ouch. But how sensitive to use it as a learning opportunity to relate to your wife and change your behavior. God surely loves your openness to Him!

  2. Good post as we have to reflect on customer service in an increasingly self-service world.

  3. It's funny how our perceptions of people online is sometimes different from real life. I would have never pegged you for 50's. You've got the appearance of a Gen Xer/early adapter.

    Yet, the wisdom that comes with maturity shines through each post.

  4. Thanks for your comments Ann and David. It's nice to know someone is reading and has a comment. Blessings to you both!

  5. What an insightful post. If I dealt with someone like that, I would have just been mad and not gotten God's spiritual lesson, I'm afraid. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, and by the way, welcome to The High Calling! We look forward to seeing more of you around the network.:)

  6. Cheryl: Haha, had you fooled, did I? I only just a couple of weeks ago got my first smart phone...Android Incredible. Nope, Baby Boomer here. But, spiritually Gen Next

    Dena: Thank you for your kind welcome. I hope you will see more of me and I of you. Blessings.

  7. Interesting.

    Years ago, in the days before barcodes, scanners, computerized registers and self-service checkout, I worked as the head cashier in a store a bit like Lowe's. (Kim, if you're a long time Californian, you might remember Builder's Emporium?)

    Certainly we intended to treat each customery with courtesy. But from a strategy point of view, keeping the lines moving was the goal.

    I am wondering if the "helper" was focused on keeping the line moving and not considering your humanity.

    It is easy to be blinded by our focus.

  8. I do remember Builders Emporium! I did re-read my post and thought maybe I was too self absorbed at the time. I have to keep reminding myself it's not all about me!

  9. I can't help but think that a bit of conversation would have made it a better experience. All of that "help" without even a "Hello" would have made me feel uncomfortable - more project than person.

    So glad to have you featured at The High Calling!

  10. I'm 39, and honestly, I usually do need help with the debit-card machine. Once, I tried to slide my library card through the machine. I can be such an airhead sometimes. :-)

    But -- sheesh! -- the cashier didn't need to be so pushy.

    Thanks for your insightful post, Kim, and I want to say how DELIGHTED I was so to see you featured at The High Calling this week!

  11. Some friends visited over Christmas, and we actually had a conversation that about something similar. We were talking about "non-violent communication" and the idea that each of us can only be responsible for our own feelings and responses. We can't be responsible for someone else's emotions and reactions to us.

    For instance, when you said you felt embarrassed and indignant - that was YOUR emotion. When you felt bullied, robbed, ignored, you were finding someone to blame for something else.

    There is something about the language of grace that must go beyond thinking of others in terms that lay blame. Your experience is a fascinating example for me of something I've been turning over for a couple of months now.

    I think most people really don't intend to hurt others by their actions; many (like your friend at the self-check) are even trying to help. But when they cross one of our boundaries, we are so, so quick to judge them and dismiss them, and we're so quick to judge and dismiss ourselves for the same thing.

    I don't think Jesus intends for us to do that. I'd be fascinated to hear if you have thoughts on it...?

    (Coming over from the High Calling today - I hope you don't mind my ramble, triggered quite neatly by your post...)

  12. Kim,
    I'm sorry but when I imagined this entire scenario, it made me laugh. Probably because I can see myself in the very same place--watching dumbfounded as a complete stranger does these weird things.

    What a crazy world we live in.

    I love your takeaway, and now you have me wondering the same. What a blessing for a husband to reflect on how he may have hurt others in this same way. Wonderful post.

  13. Diedra: Yes, some communication on either of our parts would have diffused the situation. Thanks for your kind words.

    Jennifer: haha! Thank you too for your kindness!

    Laura: It is a little funny in hindsight. A lack of good-humor in cases such as these would be inexcusable. The take away IS the whole point of the post. Thanks for noticing.

  14. Kelly, I thought I'd reply to you separately. Thank you and God Bless You for bringing this up because there really are some important distinguishing (and nuanced) points to make.

    In hindsight, I have already acknowledged to Sheila that I was self-absorbed at the time and I really do need to remember that it's not "all about me!" As Laura pointed out, there is some comedy there too. Gotta laugh.

    Your points about grace and blaming and judging are well said and I take them to heart. I think if I had acted on my feelings by turning back into the store and confronting the checker that certainly would NOT have been appropriate. On the other hand, if I had been quick-witted enough to interrupt his unwanted help, I think you are right. He probably would have explained that he was just trying to help. Also, I wouldn't have gotten to the point where I was so offended.

    I think your perspective on who is responsible for who's emotions and reactions reflects modern psychology pretty well. However, "We can't be responsible for someone else's emotions and reactions to us," expresses something that is counterintuitive. I've seen this used as a defense posture to assuage the conscience of someone who has exhibited offensive behavior. I've also seen it used as a protective mechanism by people who have been hurt by others. Essentially "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But, why was that saying thought up in the first place? Precisely because the words DO hurt.

    Notice too, that we would be quick to acknowledge that that there are all sorts of things that a person can do to make us feel GOOD feelings. It's only the bad feelings we try to guard ourselves against with the idea that "We can't be responsible for someone else's emotions and reactions to us." Also, we can acknowledge that if a person is being purposefully malicious s/he can do and say all sorts of things that WILL have an effect. Certainly, if I PUNCH you in the face, you are responsible for your reaction, but do you have a choice about whether it hurts? What difference is there if I VERBALLY PUNCH you in the gut?

    Here's the nuance. It certainly makes a difference what parties are involved. I did not know the checker personally, so his offences are of little consequence to me. Here's the reason why I'm as sensitive as I am on this subject: In counseling husbands about their relationships with their wives, they will sometimes make the case that they are not responsible for how their words and actions make their wives feel. Certainly, in a mariage relationship this brand of psychology is particularly useless.

    One last thing, (I hope you don't take offense at the long reply) the idea of identifying emotions is quite foreign to most men. We have a hard time getting past "angry," "frustrated,' and "impatient." The exercise of taking unusual circumstances and wringing out of them some spiritual/emotional lesson is what this post is all about. The idea of identifying with other's emotions is critical to the pursuit of Christlikeness. I believe it was one of the main motivating factors in Jesus' incarnation. Hope that helps explain a little. God Bless you for asking and giving me the opportunity to clarify!

  15. "Certainly, if I PUNCH you in the face, you are responsible for your reaction, but do you have a choice about whether it hurts?" Great line. Thank you.