ROCHESTER, Minn. — I am standing in front of a teller. I am a customer at this bank. But I am more than that. I am a father, husband, son, brother, cousin, friend, neighbor, colleague, professional, citizen, patient, seeker. I am protecting, in my mind, a world much larger than me. As I wait for the teller to help me, I jump from one identity to another.
I am in a hurry, and I expect quick, efficient service. The teller, however, seems busy, and in my judgment, she could be more efficient. I don’t realize, however, that the teller also has all the identities and concerns I have, perhaps more.
She is tasked with serving 15 to 20 customers every hour, a new customer every three to four minutes. She has run into all kinds of customers — difficult, ignorant, dishonest, entitled and clumsy. Perhaps the customer prior to me gave her a tough time. She is expected to try her best to remain pleasant and professional to everyone who comes to her window. She also always has to be on alert — one wrong transaction could cost her a fortune.
That’s not all. She could be struggling with an illness, concerned about her finances, sleep deprived, worried about her kids, or thinking about her parents. While she is helping her customers, she most certainly visits one of these places of hurt. If she didn’t smile at me today, most likely it was because she was elsewhere at that moment. With so much going on in her life, she has the right to not smile, to be unhappy, even to be a little rude.
I must recognize her silent, invisible suffering. It will help me be patient even if she is slower than I wish her to be. Being patient is being kind. Patience connects me with her at a deeper level. I recognize her as a fellow human being, not as a means to an end. With a kinder presence, I feel good about myself.
Perhaps by being patient, I can make her feel good about herself. That’s all I can do. I can’t ease her hurts or simplify her workload. I should certainly try not to make her life worse.
My visit to the bank uplifts me, because I am able to exercise patience and preserve kindness. I am able to think and look deeper. What if I could do this all day long — with friends, colleagues, clients, loved ones, and myself? Each experience then would become uplifting. That would be nice.
Dr. Amit Sood answers your questions about stress, resilience, happiness, relationships, and related topics in his column. Email email@example.com.