Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 20, 2008


An investment in patience always pays rich dividends


      Impatience is the cause of much conflict and trouble. On this subject I can speak with authority. My lack of patience has created problems for me all my life.

          Years ago I figured I would outgrow this character flaw. But though I have improved some, I still have a long way to go.

          I don’t fly off the handle as much as I used to. But I still have to fight this battle inside myself not to get irritated with the behavior of other people. It bothers me to deal with people who are slow, indifferent, or callous.

          My wife chastises me when I complain. She says, “This is the real world; get used to it.” She reminds me that sales clerks do not “owe me” a nickel’s worth of cheerful gratitude. So I should do myself a favor and stop expecting it. I suppose she is right but I hate to admit it. I guess I will go to my grave believing that sales clerks should thank me for spending my money in their store, though it seldom happens.

          I would rather donate a pint of blood than to stand in line. But standing in line is the norm in our society. Go to the Post Office and you stand in line. Go to the super market and you stand in line. Go to Wal-Mart and you stand in line. There, in fact, you may wait in line longer to pay out than the time it took you to fill your buggy.

          If Sam Walton were still alive I imagine most of the Wal-Mart cashiers would smile and say “Thank you for shopping with us.” But the company has a new CEO now and his last name is not Walton. Only now and then do I get a warm smile and a thank you at Wal-Mart these days – even I just bought a half-ton of groceries.

          There must be a training school somewhere that teaches sales clerks to say “Thank you” without emotion and without looking into the eyes of the customer. That is the kind of clerk I encounter at most fast-food stores – no emotion and no eye contact. The one exception is Chick-f-lay. Evidently their people are trained to be cheerful and to say things like “Have a nice day.” My hat is off to them. Maybe that is why I prefer their chicken sandwich; they thank you for buying it.

          In one store recently I waited in line behind a customer who was there when I walked in the door. The only sales clerk in sight was on the phone. She sounded like she was talking to her grandmother in Iowa or some place, not caring that two customers were waiting. At last she hung up and waited on the woman ahead of me. Then she turned to me and said, “Did you want something, sir?”

          Bam! My impatience flared up. I almost said, “No, honey, I just came in off the street to look at the pictures on your walls.” I swallowed hard and said politely, “Yes, please.” I explained that I wanted to buy an item they were selling. The clerk replied, “Go to the desk over there and the young lady will help you.” I walked over to the desk, stood there for a minute or so, and without looking at me the young lady said, “Have a seat.”

          I sat down and watched as she continued typing something into her computer. A couple of minutes went by and she said nothing. Then, again without looking at me, she said with absolutely no emotion, “What did you want?” I told her and she began helping me. She was the epitome of aloofness.  Fifteen minutes later she spoke, her voice dripping with apathy, and said, “That will be $318; how do you wish to pay?”

          As I handed her my credit card I patted myself on the back for not saying what I was thinking. Had I said anything I would have made a fool of myself. So I bit my tongue, thanked her, and left. No cheerful “thank you” for my purchase ever came from her lips.

          Two blocks away I glanced at a sign in front of a church. Instantly I knew the statement on the sign was a message to me – “The person who angers you controls you.” I realized that was a wake-up call – an invitation to calm down and not allow impatience to have its pound of flesh again.

          It helps me to relax and give people the benefit of the doubt – when I can remember to do it. The sales clerk who waited on me may have been new on the job. She may have been nervous and self-conscious or jittery because of her lack of experience.  She might have had a miscarriage three weeks ago and was simply doing the best she could. We never really know what heavy burden another person may be carrying.

          Patience comes a little easier also when I remind myself that my assignment is not to judge the behavior of other people. They are not accountable to me. My own behavior should be my biggest concern. I have some control over it and none over the behavior of others.

          Then I have to admit that if I were more gracious in all my interactions with others, people might be more gracious in responding to me.  Kindness wins more often than it loses. So I keep trying to let patience win the battle with irritation.

I have a ways to go. But this I know: An investment in patience will always pay rich dividends. It may not change the behavior of other people but it will help you feel better about yourself. And that is worth a lot. + + +