Taking Away the Joy

The other day I was happily browsing in a cute small shop. I picked up an item and had a question about it. I cheerfully approached a shop worker to ask a question. Before I could say anything, she brusquely said, “The check out is up there.” I replied, surprised but still cheerful, “Oh, I’m not ready to check out, I just had a question…” She looked annoyed and only said a quick “yes” in response to my question. I put the item back on the shelf and left the store. I was surprised at how our small interaction deflated me.

As I mulled over this interaction, I was reminded of when I was a receptionist at a busy radio station in Chicago. I was just out of college with a degree in Radio Broadcasting. This wasn’t my dream job but I was glad to be working at a radio station, at least. The station had five phone lines that I was in charge of answering. At that time, we hosted a music concert series and the only way for people to buy tickets was by calling me (back in the olden days before online ordering!) . When an announcement for the concert series was made on the radio, my phone lines lit up for ticket orders along with callers who had general questions for the station. It was stressful and many people were angry and disappointed about being on hold for such a long time while I took orders. One day, a cheerful woman called in and was excited about surprising her husband with concert tickets for his birthday. She asked a question and I quickly answered her question, then said shortly, “How many tickets do you want?” – hoping to quickly complete the transaction so I could move on to the next person. She paused and said, “Well, I have another question first…” She asked and I quickly replied and repeated, “How many tickets do you want?” We repeated this pattern one more time before she sighed and said, “You’re taking all the joy out of this for me.” She hung up, saying she’d call back when someone else could take her call. I felt terrible – it wasn’t like me to be so rude and I felt unable to break out of the pressure of the moment.

The shop worker had taken the joy out of my browsing… I wonder how many times I take the joy away from someone else’s day? Perhaps unintentionally or intentionally. It would be good to embrace the quote by the Dalai Lama: Be kind whenever possible. It’s always possible.

For me, engaging in the Examen daily is a helpful practice to become aware of these moments in my day (and awareness of what triggers impatience in me). How about you? What are some ways that help you extend kindness? Taking a breath before responding? Journaling? Prayer? Art?

PS – FWIW, part of me is uncomfortable with this phrasing: “stealing someone’s joy”. I cannot MAKE someone feel a certain way and others cannot force me to feel something. Yes, I am only responsible for my own responses – I cannot control anyone else’s response/emotions. But, we can (should?) endeavor to extend kindness, peace, and compassion to others.

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