If you heard about this, it likely warmed your heart.
The story has since gone viral. In Indianapolis recently, an old lady was in the checkout line of a Target store and was holding up the line. She wanted to pay for each of her items individually – with coins. Other shoppers were getting steamed. The old lady was getting agitated. Folks broke off to seek other cashiers.
BUT ONE SHOPPER stayed – the one standing immediately behind the old lady. Sarah Owen Bigler and her daughter marveled at how 19-year-old cashier Ishmael Gilbert patiently and considerately dealt with his senior customer.
“I realized I hadn’t been inconvenienced at all,” she wrote Jan. 13 on Facebook. “That my daughter was instead witnessing kindness and patience and being taught this valuable lesson by a complete stranger; furthermore, I realized that I too needed a refresher on this lesson.”
Her comments, and a photo of the kind cashier, have been shared more than 27,000 times on Facebook. It’s attracted coast-to-coast media coverage. Ishmael has fielded (and turned down) several offers of money and new jobs.
All in all, quite a story.
But then I thought: Why is this a story?
Would this have been a news story, say, 50 years ago? Or even when I was a cub reporter in the 1980s? What if I had shopped this around to my boss?
“Got a great idea for a feature story!”
“Yeah? What is it, Joe?”
“Well, there’s this cashier, right? And he was really nice to an old lady in his checkout line.”
“Get out of my office, Joe.”
Writing a feature story about nice customer service would have been like writing a story about an airplane landing safely. It’s supposed to happen. Right?
Don’t misunderstand. I realize Ishmael’s act of kindness at Target was a touching, Chicken Soup for the Soul moment.
But to have it elevate to national news forced me to ask a question that made my heart sink.
Is it even still normal to be nice?
ACCORDING TO one ABC News poll, 73 percent of Americans felt people’s manners were worse today than 20 or 30 years ago.
That poll was from 1999.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 2005: “Nearly 70 percent questioned ... said people are ruder than they were 20 or 30 years ago.”
A Rasmussen poll, 2013: “Seventy-seven percent of Americans think that their peers are becoming less civilized as time goes by.”
All kinds of lifestyles and subcultures have been emerging from the woodwork these days, all demanding equal time and respect. So why doesn’t there seem to be a solid consensus on what constitutes good behavior?
Actually, there is. It’s just that too few people observe it.
The “ethic of reciprocity” is mentioned in at least a dozen religions. When I was in Sunday school it was called the Golden Rule. Somewhere in my house is a cheap wooden ruler, spray-painted gold, with the text of Luke 6:31 written on one side by my grade-school Sunday school teacher.
There are many ways you can learn this rule. Before putting words together for a living, I waited tables and tended bar at a country club. Superior customer service was not only expected but demanded. That job not only helped me determine whether life was fair (spoiler alert – it’s not), but it hammered the Golden Rule into my head like no Sunday school teacher ever could.
SOME PEOPLE advocate mandatory military service. I think everyone in their late teens or early 20s should be required to wait tables for at least six months. It will teach you more about the human condition than a double-major in psychology and religion. Customer service is a rough business.
Ishmael knows this, no doubt.
“It just feels good to be recognized for good work,” he told The Indianapolis Star. “But this isn’t something new. I treat all customers the same, the way I want to be treated.”
Which is to say, the Golden Rule. That’s exactly what I’ve been teaching my son and daughter since they could talk.
And if it ever works, I’ll let you know.