Make or break for a person's spirit

Saturday, March 19, 2005

"I didn't really mean it" or "I've had a bad day" are common phrases people use to excuse themselves for treating others badly. The emotional damage people can inflict was abruptly brought to my attention a few weeks ago as I listened to a friend vent her frustration and anger.

Sally had gone shopping at a local grocery store. "That cashier needs to realize the effect she has on people so maybe she would be nicer," she said. Sally ranted on, explaining that as she stood in line to be checked out, she noticed a man standing alone waiting for a job application. He looked forlorn and dejected. Finally, he gained enough courage to timidly ask the cashier for a job application. She hurriedly answered, "I think we're out of them." Then, she glanced under the counter and said, "Yep, we're out," and went back to working. The man slunk out.

Sally said the woman at the register was rude to everyone -- failing to say, "Hello, how are you?" or offer any sort of hospitality. Also, Sally was somewhat miserable that morning and needed a lift rather than to be ignored. Because she was treated badly at the store, Sally felt disgruntled the rest of the day.

As she told the story to me, I found myself wondering: Do I bring happiness to people, or do I make them feel worthless by the way I behave toward them?

Even though I, too, encounter occasional unpleasant experiences, I feel if I'm allowed the privilege of serving others in a public position, I have an obligation to treat them as Jesus would, remembering that "Whatever I do for others, I do for Jesus." (Matthew 25:40)

People fail to realize the power they exert over others by the way they treat them. Knowing depression is rampant in our society, I hope I always remember a kind word or compliment might be the only encouragement someone receives.

The way one acts toward another could indeed make or break him, especially if he's in a vulnerable position emotionally. Although people continuing in a state of depression should seek professional help, often when people feel down in the dumps they simply need to know someone cares, assuring them they are lovable.

Paul encountered many who expressed bitterness and anger toward one another and consequently advised: "Be kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:32)

An e-mail I received recently impressed me enormously. A teacher asked her class to write a list of the nicest things they could say about their classmates. After the class received the responses revealing all the nice things their classmates had said about them, the entire class was soon smiling. Many whispered, "I never knew I meant anything to anyone!" and "I didn't know others liked me so much." The teacher found out later that most of the class had kept those papers. Many had been stored in notebooks, wedding albums and billfolds. One was read at a young man's funeral. Evidently most students needed to know they were noticed and they were special. However, if they had received a list of criticisms, it would have left them dejected and depressed rather than feeling joyful and loved.

After I listened to Sally's description of how the cashier ignored most of the people in line and read the e-mail concerning the classroom compliments, I examined my behavior and decided from now on I would be doubly careful in my dealings with others. My behavior had the ability to lift or shatter a person's spirit.

Ellen Shuck is director of religious education at St. Mary's Cathedral Parish in Cape Girardeau.

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