Most of the time I go to Walmart, I am showered and wearing real clothes. I say most of the time, because I have been known to make a quick run for supplies in my pajamas.
My most recent trip to the store included me, not only showered, but also wearing mascara, lipstick, black pants and a stylish blue shirt. A purse on my arm and designer sunglasses on my head, I grabbed a cart and smiled at the greeter.
Thirty minutes later, I was on my way out loaded down with bags of merchandise. Also in the cart were four cardboard boxes containing a slew of spiral bound notebooks. I was working on a project and needed to buy the notebooks by the case.
The greeter stopped me. “Excuse me, ma’am. May I please see your receipt?” For the teeny-tiniest second, I wanted to roll my eyes. The notebooks were 17 cents a piece. Why would I steal four cases of notebooks?
The woman took a quick look at the receipt, then a quick look at the cart and sent me on my way. I was inconvenienced by about 7 seconds.
As I headed out the automatic doors, I heard the greeter ask the man behind me if she could see his receipt.
Pushing the cart out to my car, it dawned on me. Why wouldn’t she ask to see my receipt? Because I look like I can afford to pay? Since when does looking tired, haggard or dirty mean that you are a shoplifter? Can’t people in nice clothes steal, too?
Then I realized a truth about myself that hurt. I am outwardly kind to people, but somewhere in the deepest recesses of my heart, I am unkind. I automatically judge others with a measuring stick I would never want used on myself or any of the people I love.
Most of the time, most of the places I go, I am treated with favor. I am waited on quickly and courteously. Sometimes the manager of the grocery store will even open a new checkout lane when I’m standing in line. I suspect it’s because he knows I’m the basketball coach’s wife.
Does that happen to the beaten-down mom with three kids in tow who will be paying with food stamps? I hope so, but I don’t know.
I asked a group of friends from various parts of the country if they felt like they were treated better when they dressed nicely. Out of more than 50 people, only five said that they didn’t think clothing or grooming made a difference. The rest of the group weighed in with an emphatic “Yes” and went on to give specific examples at stores, airports, car dealerships and doctors’ offices.
Could it be possible that we treat others better when we feel better about ourselves? Do we feel better about ourselves when we’re more put together? Do looks really make a difference? These questions have intrigued researchers for decades.
What I know is this: to whom much is given, much is expected. I have an obligation to love others well, lavishly even, in whatever capacity I can. Sometimes that means giving my time, talent or resources. And sometimes it means inviting that weary mom to go ahead of me in the newly opened checkout lane.
When we are treated well, let it serve as a reminder to treat others well. Regardless of how they look, how they speak, or whether or not they’re still in their pajamas.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.