I Learned My Most Important Life Lesson Working Retail’s Dreaded Black Friday Shift

‘Tis the season for holiday shopping, and all the stress that comes along with it.

I fully understand the struggle to find the perfect gifts for your family and friends. Worse yet – the challenge of finding a suitable gift for the co-worker you don’t really know that well. But I also understand the stresses of holiday shopping from the perspective of a former retail worker.

In fact, one of the best life lessons I ever learned came while working retail. Specifically, the dreaded overnight shift that runs Thanksgiving evening through Black Friday, a day which somehow never fails to bring out the worst in humanity.

What I discovered after a couple years of ringing up Old Navy’s graphic tees at 3am changed my approach to so many things . . .

The nastier the customer, the kinder I became.

It seemed counter-intuitive, but it worked to de-escalate unbelievably irate customers and begin a much more productive dialogue, even amidst the chaos of shoppers clamoring over $5 Holiday PJs.

Working retail taught me that people whose only language is hatred are often stunned into silence by a display of anything else. People who are so lost in their anger that they are incapable of speaking to you as a fellow human being sometimes need to be reminded how.

When I look at the world today, in its ever-increasing ugliness and division, I try to remember what I learned years ago behind a cash register at a now-defunct Old Navy . . . and I try to be kinder.

I believe that there is a time and place and incredible value to meaningful debate. But I’m certainly not convinced that its forum is with an extremist stranger in the comments section of the Internet. So no matter where you side in the latest saga of American politics, and no matter how vitriolic you may become from behind the safety of your computer screen – I refuse to be hateful towards you.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll blindly accept views that I feel are immoral or unjust. Nor does it mean that I won’t – kindly, but firmly – express my opinion and take a stand. It just means that while you may call me naive or unrealistic, I simply hope that I never give you grounds to call me unkind.

I have never witnessed unchecked anger truly change someone’s mind, no matter how loudly and vehemently it is proclaimed.

Yes, there is power and merit to righteous anger. Yes, there is often reason to be angry with our leaders and our neighbors and our family and our friends. But I still believe that our most potent weapon is kindness.

To be clear – I am not advocating that you exhibit kindness at the risk of your personal safety or the safety of others. There are certainly situations where kindness will get you killed. I don’t believe that kindness is a magical cure against all the evil in the world. When I worked retail, sometimes I had to call the police on customers. Their anger could have jeopardized the safety of everyone in our store, and no amount of kindness could have prevented it.

But when you have the option – when you want to argue with the poor seventeen-year-old cashier about your expired coupon; when you want to get into a pointless Twitter war; when you want to be angry with the waiter who messed up your order – try to take a step back and be kind.

Be kind, and make someone pause and wonder what is different about you.

Be kind, and teach someone that there is another way to respond to each others’ differences.

Be kind, and when you do choose to speak in righteous anger, your words will resonate that much more deeply.

Be kind, and instead of inciting an argument, you will initiate a conversation.

Be kind, and prove that we are more alike than different. And when united, we are an unstoppable force for good.

Be kind, because you have experienced hate firsthand. And you know that a world without kindness is no kind of world at all.

You can be angry, heartbroken, frustrated, outspoken, exhausted, determined, loud, persistent. But don’t be hateful.

Be kind.

Even when it is excruciatingly difficult; even when there is no hope of reciprocation – be kind.

Kindness may not defeat terrorists, prevent violence, stop sexual assaults, eradicate corruption, end sexism and racism and homophobia, or rid the world of Nazis. It probably won’t even change the hearts of the bullies on the playground.

But it’s a good place to start.

Penny for your thoughts?