08252014 Basic Human Dignity

Warning: Negativity and person opinion expressed here.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to buy groceries in Springdale. I made my first round for heavy items and went through the register to pay for them. An older lady was at the register and I could tell she had probably seen her fair share of issues in life. I did what I always do and got her to chit-chat. After I took my ton of groceries to the car and came back inside and finished up the other round with my wife, we ended up at the exact same register. The cashier had called over and gestured a couple of kiosks away, calling toward a younger person by her name. “Do you want me to ask her to come over here?” I jokingly asked. She said “Would you?” to me, and told the younger person several feet away “I still need to go to the bathroom.” The younger person could see that I was looking so she took a few steps toward the older cashier (without getting close enough to maintain privacy) and the cashier told her “I desperately need to go to the bathroom.” The younger person pointed toward the other kiosk and brusquely said “NO. I can’t leave him here, he is training and I have to watch him.” She went back over to stand motionless, in place, and watch the trainee, leaving my cashier to squirm in discomfort, her line now having 4 people behind us and no hope for an obviously necessary bathroom break in sight. I can only presume that she didn’t start screaming in anger once I left or storm off the job she obviously needed to survive.

I’m ashamed that I didn’t lie down on the floor and commence to screaming in protest. The cashier could have been anyone’s mother or grandmother. (Except mine – my mom would have thrown a can of tomatoes at the young supervisor, as well as taught her a few new curse words.) The way the older cashier was treated with disregard lingered in my mind during the evening, while I was trying to sleep and then still bothered me this morning again.

If you missed the word “still” in my story, the cashier had asked previously, well ahead of time and then been ignored. She tried to make the best of a bad situation and was polite to her “supervisor.” She had to be humiliated and was forced to mention her need in front of several people, without being given any chance at privacy. After all that, she had to grimace and writhe instead of being allowed to go to the bathroom.

I got angrier and angrier at myself because I failed to intervene. I’d like to think it was because I didn’t want to create a scene that escalated to the older cashier being in trouble, even though she had done nothing wrong and any reaction would have been on my shoulders, both as a human being and as a customer.

For all of you who have jobs which would never put you in this kind of situation, please stop and think for a moment that there are a lot of people in jobs where the basic need to go to the bathroom is questioned. I worked at a place like that for many years; several of my jobs required “permission” to walk away. Absent permission, you could and would be disciplined or fired if you dared stray from you position. Not all the stories about people losing control and soiling themselves were urban legends. For people with great jobs, this might be difficult to accept as truth. I saw it directly more than once myself, as well as being involved from a H.R. standpoint later.

If you are a supervisor or own a business, please stop and think that staffing to a level which allows and encourages people to know that they are human beings and are valued as such is paramount. Please raise your prices if that is what it takes to ensure that everyone can exercise basic human liberty. I will gladly buy less stuff if it guarantees that people are afforded more dignity.

Taking the comparison to another level, to all the businesses who think that you are saving money by compromising the safety and health of your employees by forcing them to behave in unsafe ways or to treat other human beings as interchangeable cogs to be discarded, I hope that karma is just a concept with no real-world teeth to it. Shame on this harsher outlook toward employees. Saving money to stay and grow in any business with this attitude is a disservice to society. Compete intelligently and remember that at each step employees are human beings who would otherwise tell you to jump into a molten lake of lava for forgetting their humanity – if they could do so. If you can’t remember that people always trump process and profit, you aren’t doing anyone any favors by employing them.