Reviving The Ethics Canary At The 7-11

Uncharacteristically, I began the day with a visit to my local 7-11, as we realized that the Marshalls were out of coffee and half-and-half. The perilous non-caffeinated drive was aided by the new  Sirius-XM Beatles Channel, which now follows the excellent policy of loading up the waking-up hours with early Fab Four classics, so I was safely stimulated  by joyous songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Eight Days a Week.”

The 7-11 was mobbed, as it usually is in the morning, and the line was very long. I noticed that the customers were filing past the register and the single clerk on duty almost wordlessly. Many were wearing earphones, and those who were not looked down at the counter and silently handed over their money. The clerk, a young Hispanic-American man whom I had never seen there before, was similarly unengaged, not speaking to anyone,  looking down and sullen.

This is not healthy for a community. The lack of what once was considered the normal, friendly, social interaction at a central gathering place is yet another ethics canary dying in society’s mine.

When the line got to me, I tried something bold: I looked at the young man and said, “How are you today?”  He actually shook his head quickly like a cartoon character  who sees something stunning. “Me? Good! How are you?” he said in halting English. Now he was smiling and making a connection with another human being. “I’m good,” I said.”It’s a beautiful day. When  do you get off?”

“Eleven o’clock…long day,” he said, rolling his eyes. (Holy crap!) “Have a good day, man. Thanks.”

I have to believe that simple, polite, daily contact and conversation among people can perform wonders returning mutual respect and civility to our nation, and even our civic discourse. This was a prominent habit of my father, who often treated strangers like old friends, much to the embarrassment of my mother, who tended to regard anyone who wasn’t Greek as a space alien.

Too often, I realize, when I am tired, preoccupied, stressed and in a hurry, I fail to extend to those I encounter in the random chaos of life the basic courtesy of looking them in the eye, showing that I think they matter and are every bit as important as I am (for they are), and making what may be the only time the two of us share a moment in our lives a pleasant interlude. That young man’s smile this morning should remind me, at such times, that this simple and painless gesture, repeated enough times by enough of us, can heal many of society’s self-inflicted wounds.

38 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Daily Life, U.S. Society

38 responses to “Reviving The Ethics Canary At The 7-11

  1. charlesgreen

    Amen. Civility is vastly under-rated. Good on you.

  2. I don’t have anything snappy or pithy, just a good story to start my day.

  3. Neil Dorr

    Excellent piece, Jack!

  4. Zanshin

    I remember the days that one could take a train and have a conversation with other passengers.
    And my teenage children always found it odd whenever I would say something to a complete stranger.

    • valkygrrl

      Let me guess, very extroverted?

      • Steve-O-in-NJ

        Must be, you know, like that woman who started going off on that guy on the plane about Trump? Being loud has its downside.

      • Rusty Rebar

        Your comment tickled a thought. I am rather introverted… but sometimes I will try to be more outgoing and friendly to strangers, kind of like a science experiment. I have friends who are always this way and it is interesting to watch them interact in this way. Anyway, being introverted, yet pushing your normal habits can make for in interesting time. I find the key is to take an interest in their story. People like to talk about themselves, their lives whatever… If you give them a chance you can learn a lot from someone, and maybe even make a friend now and then.

      • Doesn’t have to be extroverted. One to one fits introverted.

  5. This is another reminder for me that I’m very lucky to live in a small Western rural community. Even if you wanted to you couldn’t live in a little isolated bubble. If you go out you will see someone you know. Nine times out of ten you will have a positive interaction with them.

  6. That last paragraph was 100% spot on. A good read to start the day!

  7. Well done, both the act and the write up!

  8. Mrs. Q

    Was thinking about this topic yesterday as I walked in the park. Many of us looked at one another & smiled as we passed each other by. No politics, ideology, or stances to agree/disagree with. Just folks out there living life & being willing to share a moment, even a brief one, with another.

    I like to say if you want to be happier treat each person like they were once a precious baby…and then mind your own darn business.

  9. Bravo Jack!

    I’ll be damned if I’m going to be one of those people that stand in those long lines and not converse with those around me. I also take the time to personally thank whomever performs a service for me, regardless of the service and regardless of their age, with a respectful “Thank you Sir”, “Thank you young man.”, “Thank you Mame”, or “Thank you young lady.”; it only takes a moment.

  10. I agree. A simple greeting, besides the perfunctory grunt, does a world of good. Much to the everlasting horror and shame heaped on my family, I try to engage others in what I consider witty banter – probably more annoying than witty, but hey, it’s Thursday, so what are you gonna do? It usually goes something like this:

    Me: “Good morning.”
    Clerk: “Hello. How are you today?”
    Me: “I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I haven’t been indicted lately.”
    Clerk: “Uh . . . well . . . that’s a good thing, no?”
    Me: “Yup. Any day without an indictment is a good day.”
    Clerk: “Why?”
    Me: “Well, I figure that, because I don’t engage in criminal behavior on a regular basis, that the likelihood of an indictment is pretty slim. So, if I set the bar really low, then I don’t have to do too much to have a good day. Anything north of that is is a step in the right direction.” (ed. note: I now see why I embarrass my family)
    Clerk: “That’s true. . . I guess. . . But I like it.”
    Me: “It’s a good philosophy in my mind. And besides, I get to a chance to amuse someone.”

    The Next Day:

    Me: “Hello again.”
    Clerk: “Oh. Hey. Good to see you. Any indictments on the horizon?”
    Guy behind me: “What?! Did he just say that?”
    Me: (to the guy behind me): “Yup, he did.” To the clerk: “Nope. Another day for the record books.”
    Guy behind me: “I don’t get it.”
    Me: “Yeah, you do. It is simple and it works. Talk to people. It sets the morning mood. Perhaps it lightens the burden or simply breaks the ice. How can that be a bad thing.”
    Guy: “Oh. OK.” To the clerk: “I’ll take a pack of gum and coffee for the road.” To me: “Have a great day and don’t get indicted. If you do, never admit liability. Make them prove it.”
    Me: “See. You get it. Have a spectacular day.”

    jvb

  11. Mark

    I was recently lamenting the death of good old-fashioned flirt – catching someone’s eye in passing, slowing a bit, looking over the shoulder and, perhaps, catching their eye yet again. No chance of that these days with everyone head down (and walking!) and plugged in. Alas.

    • It’s a serious problem, Mark. No eye contact, no trust. Keep trying to flirt. Never surrender!

      • wyogranny

        It might be dangerous to flirt these days. Feminists wouldn’t be caught dead flirting or accepting it silently when someone else does it. Yet another reason to be happy in a small rural community. Especially one populated by “cowboys.” To a Western cowboy flirting is like breathing.

        • dragin_dragon

          Texans as well. I learned a lotta years ago, when my beard started turning white, old guys are EXPECTED to flirt. If we don’t, people start asking us if we’re okay.

        • crella

          The dreaded ‘male gaze’, the scourge of civilization! I’d be very careful of flirting these days if I were male. Feminists’ bar for ‘creepy’ ‘rapey’ and ‘stalker’ is set far too low.

          Very nice post, Jack. I carry my on my father’s tradition of having a chat with nearly everyone he met. It’s great fun, you can cheer up store help when they’re being rushed off their feet, learn something, or sometimes find you have info someone needs. The canary is adorable, great choice!

          johnburger2013, that reminds me of the running jokes my Dad had going with supermarket clerks, guys at the hardware store, and the local liquor store. It’s a dying art, keep it up!

      • Pennagain

        I was thinking about just that, Jack, reading the dialog you had with the clerk. And thinking What time do you get off? is one of the snappiest come-ons around.

        • You know, the second that came out of my mouth, it sounded that way to me, too, and I thought, “oops.” In truth, I have never used “what time do you get off”?” as a come on in my life, and my come-on days have been gone for some time now.

          • dragin_dragon

            “Just an FYI, “What time do you get off?” is always followed with a follow-up line…”You need a ride home?” Without the second part, it’s not considered serious flirting. I’d guess Jack’s question was taken more as “How much longer do you have to do this today?” than as a come-on, especially the way the clerk responded.

      • valkygrrl

        No eye contact, no freaking people out with a creepy stare because you have to remind yourself to make eye contact and aren’t sure how long to do it for. Not to mention it’s so damn distracting, how do you remember what you wanted to say when half your brain is focusing on looking at someone’s eyes?

        • Those of us on the autism spectrum learn to look at the bridge of their nose. Easier by far than eye contact, and they cannot tell the difference.

          • valkygrrl

            What about the distraction of having to pay attention to where you’re looking instead of paying attention to your own words?

            • Stare at the nose for no more than 15 seconds at a time, then break contact. With enough practice, it becomes habit that mimics the social skill and allows the discussion to proceed.

              One blessing out of this handicap is that many of us can dual track (or more) our thinking processes. Thus the counting and the conversation can happen at the same time. However, I cannot TALK and think ahead while counting, so had to learn the nose stare timing until it became reflex, while stopping to collect my thoughts to put into words. Now I can think ahead and talk behind that, and many of my colleagues are startled to find I have autistic characteristics. I fake ‘normal,’ to state it bluntly and poorly.

              This is HARD. But the goal is worth the price, IMHO, because I have been able to get promotions that were denied before, based on my social skills. Oh, they never admitted that (at least not sober) but they were always looking for excuses as to why the best technically qualified choice was not promoted, when upper management and HR asked.

              Good luck, valkygrrl. If you are not blessed with the social skills most are born with, it will have to be overcome if you want certain things in life. It is not fair. As I tell my kids, LIFE is not fair, and we are responsible to do the most with the hand we were dealt. (The shorter quote is “Life is not fair, and anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something”)

              Hellen Keller overcame MUCH more than I or most autistics ever will, and did it without benefit of sight OR hearing. It can be done.

              • valkygrrl

                Eh, I was blessed with what I thought was a basic set of social skills. The eye thing though is so unnatural. I’m dumb, I need what little brain power I have to put words to thought.

          • I was told when I was younger that you can slowly switch between ear lobes and the bridge of the nose. Since most people simply can’t “stare” at one thing very long it’s gives individuals choices when they become uncomfortable with the point of focus. Plus, it’s perceived as trying to be intimidating if a person stares directly at your eyes without shifting focal points, shifting focal points is more natural, where staring at one focal point is not.

            When you are speaking to large groups, the tops of head works great!

            When performing in the theater, eye contact or anything close to that is specifically frowned upon and will likely be perceived as breaking character and could actually cause someone to break character and the results can get “interesting”.

            • crella

              That’s interesting, thank you! I have trouble with how to look at people. I have it almost down but sometimes I goof and look too long. I don’t know what it is on my end. II was always extremely shy as a child and couldn’t look at people when they were talking to me, and decided in my early teens that I’d have to work on it I get stage fright now when I try to play for people ( I play alto sax) A look that’s a beat or two too long makes people uncomfortable, and I realize I’ve done it again by their reaction. If you look up or away it looks like you’re about to bolt on them I’ll try the bridge of the nose.

  12. Tom Fuller

    This will get me in trouble with someone, but I am reminded of what H.L. Mencken once wrote: “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.”

  13. Keith Walker

    I work seasonal retail at a bike shop, so we have a lot of regulars and people who come in specifically for bike stuff, so there is lots of interaction. I continue to be dismayed, however, at how many people in retail are exactly like you tell us here, Jack. To the point of being sullen, even. We all know that working at a burger joint or a 7-11 isn’t a career maker necessarily, but at least make eye contact with your customers. And the patrons are equally guilty – when did we stop basic civil discourse? I blame the internet and “social” media for a lot of these issues, honestly. And I readily admit that I probably wouldn’t strike up a conversation on a train with a perfect stranger myself, so I’m probably part of the problem. (My cynical liberal side is begging me to mention the idea of racism here, since the clerk is Hispanic, but I am resisting!!)

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