Yesterday, I found myself at a crowded walk-in clinic. It was so packed that some people were standing outside because, in their own words, they were worried about the fire marshal.
The check-in window had two lines. As I waited in the left slot for a friendly nurse to process me, a very grouchy woman beside her called for the next person. I stepped aside to let the guy behind me step up, smiling politely. The woman glared at me and barked, "YOU STAY WHERE YOU ARE!" Smile instantly ripped off my face, I stepped back exactly where I was going to step even before this grump decided I was an unruly 5-year-old.
It's not that I take it personally, because I realize this woman deals with calamity every day. But is it really necessary to act this way? I've been on her side of similar calamities in my life and I found that how it panned out depended hugely on my attitude. If I let things get to me, then I barked at other people; but if I made a point of keeping my cool, everything turned out fine, with the added benefit of lifting some people's moods. Which, in turn, would further lift mine.
Such surliness is an unfortunate consequence of economics, as I've seen time and again. The less privileged one is, the more likely they are to patronize overcrowded and underfunded facilities of any kind. There, the staff is likely to think of them as uneducated cattle in need of herding. This makes it a difficult experience for everyone involved. It's something that most well-to-do people aren't likely to encounter or understand. And yet, it's such an inextricable part of life for struggling people that its effect can't be dismissed. Such treatment is part of a reality where indignity is the price of being broke.
Being nice doesn't cost anything, but it might make life richer for those most in need of a smile.