Why is it that every time I go to Whole Foods, someone literally almost knocks me down trying to run to the conveyor belt at the check stand faster than me? This has happened to me three times in a row, if you count today, and I’m not competing for anything. Really. This is just my regular speed, people.
It got me thinking, when I was trying to figure out what could possibly make the person behind me, who shoved his stuff ahead of mine on the belt for some reason, want to rush that bad. On the streets of L.A., I expect this. We’re not the politest city in the world. But in Whole Foods? The bastion of awareness and enlightenment? Seriously?
The thing is, being polite means being aware. It’s as simple as that. You need to be able to exchange your feelings for those of others, cultivate empathy, and get over yourself. Your needs can’t, by necessity, be more important than those of others. Unless you’re rushing to the hospital with a pregnant woman or a stab wound of some kind, I’m not sure why you’re acting that way.
So to reframe this semi-permanent annoyance, I tried to tap into their needs. Maybe these people did feel that getting ahead of me, or someone else, was so important to their perceived arrival time (where, I wondered?) that they couldn’t risk the luxury of human interaction. It wasn’t working very well.
Then I tried drawing an imaginary line between us, and meeting this guy halfway. I hung out like a neighbor at a fence, hoping to have a cup of tea and talk about it. In my mind’s eye, he kind of lolly-gagged over, thinking it was showing some kind of weakness to even engage with me. I saw in that moment that it wasn’t about being rude at all. It was about fear of connection, fear of looking someone else in the eye and dealing with them on that scary, vulnerable level. In essence, it was about social anxiety more than anything else. And even though it may not stop people from cutting me off in line at Whole Foods (I usually let them go ahead anyway), at least I understand it a little more, and that’s just polite.