For Barlow, it was chopping wood and carrying water. Paying attention to the little things. For me, it was shopping this evening.
I recently moved from a rather small town in the interior of BC where everything was within about a 5-10 minute drive of where I lived. Now, I’m living in a spot that is both highly urbanized, but also a bit of a food desert. There are very few grocery shopping options close to where we are living. As a result, we’ve started ordering our groceries online from a store that is relatively close to my employment and I stop by on the way home and pick up my order. It is fantastically convenient and I don’t have to spend my time wandering the aisles in search of that thing that doesn’t seem to exist in a store that may very well have everything else.
To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with the convenience of it all because I recognize that I am in a position of privilege to begin with and those who are doing my shopping are likely paying for my convenience in some way. I’ve asked a few of the people who bring my groceries out how they like the setup and they have all been pretty ‘meh’ about the whole thing. They are almost all women and they range in age from teens to middle-aged (fairly typical for grocery clerks around here).
Earlier this evening, as I was picking up my order, the clerk who brought out my groceries was a college-aged woman who was likely working part time while she attended school in the area. I asked her what she thought of the job and she indicated that she was super busy all the time but didn’t really like it when people complained about the service. She told a story of a recent customer who couldn’t figure out why the store was out of a particular item and didn’t understand why the clerk wouldn’t go back into the store to find the item, despite the fact that the clerk was clearly busy and simply couldn’t do that without disrupting service to several waiting customers.
This particular customer then went out of her way to leave a poor review of the clerk’s ‘performance’ with the shift supervisor.
I was both aghast that someone would be anything but grateful to have a personal shopper for $3, not have to leave their car, not have to wait in line and be in and out of the parking lot in about 10 minutes. It clearly impacted this young woman to have a person complain about her service and I went out of my way to show her my gratitude and wish her a good evening. I hope it helped.
All that to say, that I think that, like bell hooks said, it is in the little things that we need to pay attention, to care for people, even random encounters. We never know who is carrying too much of a burden.
I fear that the technology that I so appreciate for its ability to connect me with people across the world while I sit on my living room couch also has the ability to sow mistrust, and to promote unthinking, shallow caricaturization of ‘others’.
Random Encounters by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.