I’m a coffee addict.
Because I’m also often on the road, I’m intimately familiar with every coffee shop within a 50-mile radius of my home.
There’s one joint, though — the shop and town will remain unidentified — where I only stop as a last resort, when my coffee jones has touched off the DTs and there’s nothing else within reach. I’d almost — almost — rather forgo coffee altogether than buy it there.
At this shop, I always somehow end up with the same barista, no matter how many other baristas are working. This dude is the perfect storm of poor customer service. He’s so spacy I suspect he’s high on weed. He’s slow. Usually, once he does amble around and fix my drink, he gets my order wrong. If I mention that the drink he’s served me isn’t the drink I asked for, he’s dismissive and condescending.
I’m not applying for a medal, or even for congratulations, but I’ve managed to remain kind to this barista anyhow, which is contrary to my nature.
I haven’t lectured him on proper customer service. I haven’t stomped out of the coffee shop in a huff. I haven’t given him a hopping-mad piece of my mind. I haven’t called the manager to complain.
Instead, I’ve tried to smile and be friendly regardless of what I get in return.
I keep trying to do this because I take the Bible seriously, particularly the New Testament, and thus I’m half-afraid not to be kind — even to people who are rude.
Which is to say, there’s self-interest in my generosity of spirit.
Jesus commanded us to be merciful to surly, ungrateful people because, he said, that’s how God treats us; to be God’s children we must act as our father does.
The same measure we use to dole out either mercy or judgment to our fellow travelers is the standard by which God will dole out mercy or judgment to us, Jesus added.
As one who’s hoping for a huge dollop of divine mercy to be directed my way, I figure I’d better be kind to others, whether they’re cranky, incompetent baristas or aggressive drivers who tailgate me or legalistic Christians who assure me I’m hell-bound for certain.
Just be kind, I remind myself again and again.
There’s no credit for being nice to those who are nice to us, Jesus said. Any fool can do that. It’s when we’re nice to those who don’t deserve it or even care that it really counts.
I haven’t perfected any of this, of course. Lots of days I’m not nice at all. But the Lord knows I’m trying.
When we choose to show forbearance and mercy and understanding, it lowers the stress level of the universe itself. Kindness defuses arguments and hard feeling. Taken far enough, it might prevent wars, not to mention divorces and church divisions.
And our kindness absolutely lowers our own individual stress, whether or not the person at which it’s aimed appreciates our good deeds.
Here’s another thought. I find it’s easier to be nice if I first contemplate my own ignorance and weakness.
Life keeps teaching me lessons (many of which I never wanted to learn). Among the more important things it’s taught me is that I don’t know what circumstances have brought another person to the place he’s in today.
I can’t say whether I’d have done half as well as he’s done if I’d been in his shoes. I’m not anywhere near as superior as I once believed I was. This I’ve seen firsthand.
The barista I mentioned earlier appears to be both incompetent and a jerk.
What I might not know is that, say, he was abandoned by his father and abused by his mother and grew up on the streets in pain I can’t imagine, which accounts for his misanthropy.
Or maybe he spent years addicted to heroin, and this job is his first tentative step after rehab toward a new life. Maybe he seems disaffected because he’s concentrating so hard on staying clean.
Or maybe he suffers from chronic depression.
There could be a hundred things I don’t know about this guy at the coffee shop, things that, if I did know them, would make it easy to cut him slack. I might feel guilty for having been tempted to tell him off. Heck, I might admire him.
I might find that, in his soul, he’s a better person than I am.
Of course, it could be none of those things is so and he’s just a natural jerk who plans on staying a jerk.
But if that’s the case, my kindness has cost me nothing. It’s perhaps sown a seed in the barista that someday will bear fruit despite his plans to the contrary.
At the very least, it’s developed a bit of self-awareness and self-control in me, and given me peace, and has enabled me to understand in a microscopic way how God deals with our fallen world writ large.