A recent encounter with a stranger at a Tuesday Morning store in my neighborhood reminded me of how important it is to be mindful of how our words and actions can affect others.
We’re still practicing social distancing where I live, but retail stores are opening up again and I couldn’t wait to stop by one of my favorite stores.
A woman wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, sunglasses, and a light blue face mask that covered her nose and mouth, waited by the door.
“Are they open?” I asked.
She checked her watch. “They open at 10, I think. We got about 10-minutes,” she said through her mask.
Talking amongst ourselves
That’s how I came to be standing on the sidewalk in the shadow of the building on a hazy Friday morning. A few minutes later another woman walked up, she had a black mask pulled down over her chin.
Standing a safe distance from each other, we got to talking about the current situation–COVID, quarantine, social distancing–and how happy we were that stores were opening again.
The woman in the straw hat said she had just gotten laid off from her job but had not had any success filing for unemployment. “I’m 68 years old,” she said, “but I still want to work. The president of my company said they planned to recall part of the workforce, but said if you’re over 65…you should just stay home.”
Even though her former employer’s leadership may not have explicitly said or meant it, the message she heard, loud and clear, was:
- You, over-65-year-old people, are the problem.
- We don’t want you back.
- Go home and stay there.
- It would be better for everyone if you just disappear.
Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?
It would be easy to explain the company policy away and say, “I’m sure that’s not what they meant.” Maybe even assume she was being oversensitive.
Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.
But what struck me is how policy—public, corporate, even personal—sends messages beyond words. It’s through our actions, how we live and treat others, that speaks volumes about what we value.
What I learned about her in our short conversation that morning was that this woman is active in her church, sings in the choir and has lots of church friends. The quarantine has cut her off from all that. She lives alone and is ready to get back to life and get back to a job she loved.
But now they don’t seem to want her back because she’s over 65 and they seem to think people over 65 should stay out of sight out of mind.
That impromptu, casual, social-distanced, sidewalk conversation left an impression on me.
That company president’s words made this woman feel unvalued and irrelevant. He probably didn’t intend to leave that impression, but that was her takeaway.
I felt really bad for her. She loved her job and didn’t want to leave it and now she felt a real sense of loss at yet another thing being taken away from her.
The virus hasn’t changed our need for community and relevance and value. If this whole thing has taught us anything it’s that we need human connection and community.
And especially now, when people are more physically isolated, people need to know that they matter.
You and I may not be able to do a lot to help the current situation, but small acts of kindness can go a long way at this time of social distancing.
Here are a few small things we can do to build connection and community during this time of isolation.
Words matter. Choose them well.
It’s hard to be mindful of the power of our words even in the best of circumstances, but it may be even more important now, especially when it comes to interacting with strangers. It may not seem like a big deal to say “Thank you” to the grocery store clerk, but they’re not robots. Acknowledge them.
Phone a friend.
It happens to me all the time. I have a friend who’s been on my mind and I really want to call them, but every time I think about it, it’s too late, I’m busy, or it’s not the perfect time. When I finally stop putting it off and just make the call already, I’m always glad I did.
Encourage a fellow human.
You may not have many chances to encourage people in the current situation, but don’t be afraid to offer a kind socially distanced gesture of encouragement, like phoning a friend or neighbor, supporting a local eatery, or leaving a positive comment about a service you’re received.
Or go above and beyond to show you care.
One of my family members recently put care packages together for neighbors who live alone. All women. She delivered the packages the day before Mother’s Day with a note saying, We’ve been thinking about you. The gesture surprised them and brought a few to tears of joy.
What a brilliant way to show people they are loved!
The world could use more random acts of kindness right now. Need some ideas? Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website.
Be mindful of your actions and how they may be perceived.
A friend of mine recently made a run to a grocery store and even though her city leaders strongly encourage people to wear masks, she noticed half the crowd wasn’t. She didn’t feel safe being in that environment.
And when people don’t respect the call for social distancing, it makes me wonder, Do they just not care?
Still, what other people do and say is out of your control. The best each of us can do is to speak and act in ways that reflect our own “personal policy.”
Our individual policies in action
If you’ve ever worked for a company you love, their policies probably made you feel valued, like you mattered. They cared about whether you were there or not.
That’s highly motivating for people. And wouldn’t that be what you want your “personal policy” to reflect?
We can do that every day by acting in a manner that reflects a policy of caring and kindness.
That was true before COVID-19 and will be true when COVID-19 is history. But now it seems even more important to take every opportunity to lift people up even in the small ways you can.
For more about the power of words, read Words Have Power on the blog.
I’d love to hear from you. What are you seeing and feeling as communities open back up?