Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Little Kindnesses

You're always so polite!  You're one of my favorite customers!
 That's what the young woman at the register said to me today.  She worked at a sandwich shop, one that I frequented maybe once a month, if that.  It served hundreds of customers a day.  Yet merely because I'd always end my order with "please" and say "thank you" whenever handed something, even my own credit card, she remembered me and appreciated how I'd treated her in the past.  I was kind of stunned.  I didn't think I'd done all that much; just paid her the same courtesy I pay everyone.  I guess that was enough to make me stand out to her.  That's a little sad, that we've fallen so far that we can't even thank a stranger providing us with a service, but it still made my day, to know that her life was one iota better because of me.  And let's be clear, I'm not saying she'd be a depressed wreck were it not for my infrequent "thank yous," and when I say iota I mean the smallest degree possible.  But still, better.  Because she let me know about it, that made my day.  Another little thing, but a small reason to feel a little better.  To be honest I remembered her too, but she's usually working the register when I happen by and I haven't seen thousands of cashiers the exact same context since I last saw her.  I'd noticed that she was always smiling, always cheerful, and always told me to have a great day as I left.  I'd always respond with a "you too!"  I thought she treated all customers like that.  Maybe she does.

I put a lot of stake in these little things.  I try to smile at people and as I said, I'm courteous to everyone I meet.  Maybe it's a habit formed by my low self-esteem, a hope that I could seek approval from an unbiased party that knows nothing about me, or maybe it's just who I am.  I prefer to think the latter.

Once in a theology class - stop me if you've heard this one before - a classmate asked me, "if you don't believe in God, what stops you from murdering everyone?"  I resisted the overwhelming urge to cackle, "nothing," seeing as it was a class about understanding other beliefs and she had asked the question sincerely, but this is one of the most common questions the religious ask me.  I explained to her the value of camaraderie, the penalties of law, and most importantly how I still have ethics and morals even if I do not take them from a particular book or fear of divine punishment.  And I explained to her how the absence of God places upon us a responsibility to one another.  Essentially, we need to help each other as much as we can, because no one else will.  That's why I'm not holding out for a miracle - something inexplicable that would benefit only me - but for science - something understood that would benefit all.  And if you're wondering why an agnostic was taking a theology class in the first place, I was taking it for the same reason as everyone else: I was sociologically interested in the various religions of the world. 

That said, I really hope that girl never loses her faith, because if she does, yikes.

(It's my belief that the religious do have ethics and morals that are independent from their code of religious beliefs but that religion is the most obvious and immediately recognizable codification of those morals, and so few feel the need to examine it much further than that.)

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