Lessons from Walmart

This is a re-post of a note I published November 4, 2014 on Facebook. I am transferring my notes from Facebook into my Float the River blog.

For the last two months I have been spending a lot of time in a very familiar place: Walmart. As with many of us, I have for years found myself going there often for a variety of things. This time is different though. It is a different view. A different perspective. A different part of the picture. You see, I work there. I’m an associate; badge, vest, box cutter, and all. In the two months I have worked there I have learned much about life, especially about my life. A very poignant and powerful classroom it has been. Here are 8 things I am learning from my time there.

1) I am very susceptible to condescending attitudes.

Let’s be straight up with this one. Many people approach me with the attitude that I since I work at Walmart, I am an idiot. I work in the Sporting Goods Department and many people assume I have no knowledge or experience with the shooting, hunting, fishing, camping, etc. and are quick to treat me as such. The same goes for my attitude towards people who think I am just trying to be a salesman and rip them off when I am just trying to be helpful with the products they are looking for. If you are going to be put off by my suggestions why did you ask in the first place? I never fully understood how easily I allow people to get under my skin and change the way I respond to people. Usually it is subtle and passive aggressive, but it is there for sure. Allowing someone to get under my skin like that makes me very vulnerable and apt to be a jerk. Not good. Not at all.

2) I can easily have a very condescending attitude.

Wow, this hurt. There are people who come in who are just an annoyance. They have a sense of entitlement that pushes others out of the way, ignores the people around them, and thinks they deserve all of the store’s full attention. They come in thinking they know how the store operates and they reason they can’t any .22 ammo is because we are purposely hiding it from them. They act like they own the store and can do whatever they want. In my mind they are lucky to get served at all and I wish they would never show their face again. Ya, because I am so much better than they are. God, thank you that I am not like that moron…uh huh. If that is in my head, then it is in my speech and actions. That. Must. Go.

3) I am easily irritated by people who won’t quit talking because they want to impress everyone around.

Every time some people come in they boast about the same things…loudly. They annoy other customers and who only tolerate them because they need to wait for them to get out of the way so they can get what they came for. Please, won’t you just stop talking?! Usually these are older men who are by themselves. How easy it is to forget that everyone has a context. A context of pain, loneliness, and sadness of which I don’t know. I wonder how often people have actually stopped to care? How easy it is to forget that I am there to serve, care for, and interact with everyone, regardless of how they come across.

4) I talk too much because I am trying to convince people I know what I am talking about.

You know, not every conversation needs to be a sermon. I probably should ask more questions about what people are looking for and why they are looking for it so I can truly help rather than assuming I know with certainty what they need. Even if you do think I am an idiot, preaching to you about all I know about this or that gun, this or that knife, or whatever is not going to change anything. Actually it will probably just annoy everyone around and make them want to leave the area, not to mention confirm what you already thought about me.

5) Every interaction is the chance for a relationship.

One of the nice things about working in Sporting Goods is that we get a lot of repeat customers that share common interests. If I actually greet people and take an interest in them, I can actually build a relationship with them and their families. I now know a number of people by name and see several of them at church. It really doesn’t take much effort to actually engage people and take an interest in them. It really begins with my attitude and how I approach people. Am I approaching people because it is my job or do I really want to know and serve them at some level? This is why I really loathe the “turn and greet the people around you” times at churches. It is too easy to smile, shake hands, be pleasant, and check it off our duty list rather than stick around a bit after service and actually take interest in a person.

6) Every interaction is the chance to show the grace, mercy, patience, and love of Christ.

Every person I meet is living within their physical, emotional, baggage filled context that will affect how they express themselves to me. I can choose to respond in kind to those I meet or I can take a deep breath and actually care more about them than I do about myself.

7) I am never able to handle interactions with anyone without the help of the Holy Spirit.

I can’t begin to remember how many times I have interacted with someone, with great intentions, only to walk away thinking, “Did I really just say that?”, “Where did THAT come from?!”, or “What was I doing?!”. That is what happens when I operate on my own, trusting my sparkling personality and good intentions to cover for me. There are too many variables, too many imperfections, too much lack of insight within me (not to mention the other people involved!) for me to think I can go through my day on my own. Not a chance.

8) I am very prone to thinking I can interact with people apart from the help of the Holy Spirit.

I know this because of how seldom I pray and ask for help to overcome my weaknesses, to prepare my heart and attitude, to have wisdom, insight, and sensitivity to people as I am preparing to engage them.

Walmart. It certainly wasn’t expected but it certainly is a welcome part of my journey. Not to mention, I look pretty good in blue, too.

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