Thursday, February 13, 2014

Meanness and Anger are Contagious.

Last week I walked into the post office with passport application paperwork in my hand, a spring in my step, and visions of visiting my sister in my head. But the woman behind the counter (let's call her Gladys) gave me a flat, hard stare and said, "Passport service is only done by appointment." Oh. An awkwardly long silence stretched between us before I asked the obvious question: "Can I make an appointment?" Gladys pressed her lips into a thin line, gave me a glare, picked up the huge appointment binder, and slammed it hard onto the counter. An appointment was made, and no further instructions were given.

I walked into the post office on the appointed day, on time, and hesitated when I saw a line stretching almost to the door. I sighed, joined the queue, and watched a long line form behind me. I waited almost fifteen minutes before I stepped up to the counter--and Gladys. When I told her what I needed, her face went dark. 

"We only do that by appointment." 

"I made an appointment last Friday. With you." I gave her my name.

"Oh, really." She hefted the appointment book onto the counter, consulted it, and frowned. "You're late."

I gestured behind me. "I've been waiting in line for 15 minutes."

Her eyes narrowed. "Why didn't you jump the line?"

I attempted a feeble joke: "When I made my appointment, I wasn't instructed to jump lines. And I left my crystal ball at home."

The joke fell flat, and Gladys just glared harder. "Gimme your papers."

It got worse and worse. Gladys huffed at me for bringing the entire application, because she didn't need every single page. She mocked me for waiting to sign with her witnessing because apparently that's only necessary with one's first passport. She criticized me for not having a pen in my purse. Everything she said was accompanied by a sarcastic roll of the eyes, and said in a tone that questioned  my intelligence. I was completely unprepared for such withering unkindness, and my tear ducts took the brunt of the verbal assault: My new passport photo is a hilarious trying-not-to-cry grimace.

I was so upset that I left the post office shaking. I like to think of myself as a person who doesn't get upset over petty slights. I like to think that I control my emotions well. But, um, that's obviously not the case. As I drove home, my indignance was replaced with blind rage, and I imagined all the things I should've said in response to Gladys' sarcasm.

I was so distracted by my thoughts, I just followed the car in front of me like a dumb sheep. I almost didn't notice the furious man standing on the sidewalk and shaking his fist at me. His face was practically puce with rage. Why was he angry? OH. Because he wanted to enter the crosswalk, and we weren't obeying the sign commanding us to yield to pedestrians.

I felt like a huge ass. Heck, in that moment I was a huge ass.

Gladys treated me rudely and made me angry. My anger caused me to be rude to someone else and make him angry. I hated to think what might happen next. Was that man going to go into work and take his anger out on his coworker? Was she going to go home from work and pass the negativity on her children? That's not an implausible scenario. In that moment, I was explicitly aware of how my actions affect others, even people I might not see face to face. I resolved to be more careful about the type of energy and attitudes I put out into the world.

Talking about it sounds trite, and sort of like something from Chicken Soup for Captain Obvious' Soul, but it's a true thing that happened. And now that I've had time to ponder it, I'm grateful for the lesson.


  1. Gotta wonder how rotten Gladys' life is…..that she's just spreading the misery around.

    1. I imagine working at the post office is stressful and thankless. That does make me feel sorry for Gladys.

  2. you know, i've heard it takes about four positives to erase a negative. . . there's no telling what kind of day (or week, or month) that someone could be having so i always try to make sure i'm not adding to mine or anyone else's negative pile. i definitely think my share of sarcastic/snarky comments, but i rarely ever let them out because there is literally no benefit to it.

    i actually used to be a pretty bitter/sarcastic person (in high school, ughhh why am i revealing this?!) and then i had the unpleasure of meeting someone of the same character and realizing how terribly painful it is to be around people like that. and i'm not talking a witty reply to something or some peppered dry humor— i definitely appreciate that. i mean putting down *everything* so no one else can enjoy anything. i just feel really bad for people like gladys who aim to be the tallest building my tearing all the others down.

    at least you've recognized + acknowledged the cycle and are actively trying to break it. supposedly, a woman who played snow white at disneyland said, "when you are hugging a child, always be the last one to let go. you never know how long they need it," but i really feel like that wisdom is for all ages. big hugs to you (and even gladys) today <3

  3. I shouldn't say this but someone has it. Gladys was a mean person to you but when people act mean you have two options be sweet or put them on their place. I tried two and both worked fine. Once i went to the post office and had the same problem with someone who was rude to me, but i noticed that she had tinny candies in her desk, the next time i brought her the same candies and her attitude was totally different.
    Put people in their place is more like when i'm not in the mood and when they are rude to me i say something like "excuse me, if you don't like service work, you should take another job in which you don't have to treat people like this"
    I'm telling this because the way Gladys treated you was so wrong but it was even worst because you let her treat you like that.

    1. That's an interesting perspective. Standing up for oneself is good. I also believe in choosing one's battles carefully. I just wanted to get my passport and get out of there! Putting energy into correcting Gladys, and holding up the long line behind me, didn't feel right. It wasn't a battle I wanted to fight.

      It might also be a cultural thing. In the south, It would be considered very inappropriate to say something like that. It might've shocked Gladys into silence. But I did not want to add more negativity.

  4. I agree with Jenna, why do we absorb so much negative and let us affect us...but not take the positive with so much heft? It's just human nature. I am so guilty of this of being completely floored by someone who just decides to me an asshole on a given day. Negative energy is like a virus and it spreads! I feel bad that this woman hates her job so much that she takes it out on everyone she encounters...but who knows what she is going through in her personal life that has turned her into such a monster. I admit that I have snapped at folks and not exactly been all sunshine and lollipops when I have been going through a rough patch. I can only hope that Gladys's life will improve so the negativity virus will stop spreading!!

    1. Right! Because she probably didn't just wake up and decide to treat all her customers rudely. Someone must've treated her badly, and she's just part of the chain of unhappiness.

  5. I always appreciate reading things that are so honest! I work i a field where everyone has their Negative Nancy hat on a-l-l the t-i-m-e and I have to make a real effort not to show up at home with the burden of that resting on my shoulders, definitely love having this food for thought. : )


    1. Thanks! Sometimes it's hard to be real, because it feels so vulnerable. I really appreciate this feedback, and I'm happy to provide food for thought.

  6. I am so sorry about this incident! But I know what you mean by all of this. I had similar feelings after a job interview once.

    I hope things are better now though. :)



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