It started as a beautiful day. My plans were simple: fill my time doing things I love to give my brain a break, including visiting my favourite fabric store and popping by a garden centre to fill my empty patio pots.
It was a ‘right brain’ kind of day.
Alas, our car’s tank was dry, so en route to my creative destinations I passed by a local gas (aka petrol) station. I filled up the thirsty beast, and proceeded to the checkout to pay.
I apologised and asked if they could try the card again.
[I should note, from this point onwards this article is solely from my point of view as my own lived experience. As I always say, there are three sides to every coin: he said, she said, and the truth somewhere in between].
“I’m so terribly sorry - I’m not sure what’s happening”.
His silence and scorn was palpable. I felt like a criminal on trial for a petty crime.
Visually annoyed by my predicament, he disgruntledly passed me a phone to try a call-based payment.
I apologised again and acknowledged their constraints and managerial responsibilities - they were doing their job and heck, I’m sure this wasn’t their first rodeo. I could only imagine how frustrating this must be for them.
I called my partner to see if he could borrow someone’s car and come pay. No luck - he was locked into a critical meeting.
“I’m honestly so sorry about this. I don’t have any other way of payment. I live only 5 minutes away - could I leave my phone here as security and go get a different card to pay?”
This is when the real judgement began.
The kind of judgement that blackens your soul while highlighting the fact that the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is just political prose.
There was no empathy, no assistance, no nothing from the store clerks.
“It’s store policy”. Period.
Looking down on me like a thief, he bemusingly pushed a laminated sheet of paper in front of me.
“Read this”, he commanded.
In short, the document instructed that if I left the property and did not come back within 60 minutes, the police would be called out to find me and I’d be charged.
Let me again be crystal clear here: it was my mistake - my credit card, my problem. I should have had an alternate means of payment as backup. Lesson learnt.
And one should also take into consideration - perhaps they had recently been through this before and got burned for their decisions, which is grounds for their suspicious skepticism.
But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I’m not trying to make a case that I should have received a free ride, nor was I asking them to give me a hug and make it all better. Throughout the experience I repeatedly apologised for the inconvenience and did everything I could to take responsibility.
The sole point I’m trying to make is this: what I was expecting, mistakenly so, was for a small glimmer of humanity.
A tiny inkling of:
‘oh gosh, I’ve been through this before, such a pain!’
‘I would help however my hands are tied, I hope you can understand’
But there was only apathy and contempt.
I had no choice. Nervously, I left with my tail between my legs and proceeded to drive off the lot.
[I swear I could hear the police coming after me.]
I made it home and back within 10 minutes, and returned to the payment counter.
“Can I help you?”
Are you serious? I thought, looking at him puzzled. I guess I really didn’t matter to him at all.
He finally clued in.
“Oh, you came back”, he muttered.
“Yes, I did. And I brought my Flybuys card too”.
Because yes, I am human: I like collecting points so I can get a free toaster.
And I stay true to my word, too.
I left, shaking… and sad.
Disappointed that in this day and age, when we are closing out a year that has shown us so much pain and heartache due to lacking human empathy, that a simple mistake was used as an opportunity for belittment.
But it also raised a separate point: we are living in an age of automation, a topic rife with debatable pros and cons. Does this mean that we too, should become automated in how we do our jobs?
Should we follow protocols to the tee in a binary fashion, with no room for human input or direction?
I believe it is here: the space between the requirements of our job and how we do our jobs, is what separates us from our robotic and automated counterparts.
It’s what separates the double-tap social likes from a genuine in-person hug, or sending a text compared to a hand-written card.
And most importantly, it’s what separates us from having an intel chip to having a beating, human and feeling heart.
It is my sincere hope, that as we progress into a world filled with efficient machines and error-free systems, that we never forget what makes us who we truly are, human.
How do you do your job? Do you have any blindspots? Scale your potential with personal mentoring with Dr Katherine here.