"I can't believe the incompetent staff at Macy's!"

"Do you know how long I had to wait in line at the bank today?!"

"I wish they'd outlaw telemarketers. They're so obnoxious."

We all get frustrated with the way large corporations inconvenience us -- Wal-Mart, Bloomingdale's, Bank of America, Visa -- doing nothing but earning money and making our lives more difficult, more stressful. Sometimes these companies are to blame for being inefficient and overbearing. And sometimes they're not to blame.

Someone is doing their best to hold down two jobs, keep a family afloat and put on a cheerful face.

Either way, the victims of our anger are usually not the CEOs, the board of directors or the shareholders, but some struggling minimum wage worker, someone doing his/her best to hold down two jobs, keep his family afloat and put on a cheerful face.

Read Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed." She tried to survive at minimum wage. She went out and imitated the life of a hotel housekeeper, a cleaning service maid, a waitress. She was treated like dirt by employers, customers, and the social service agencies who were supposed to help.

Along the way, she discovered the most basic of truths: "It ain't easy."


This group doesn't get the press that the inner city does. Their plight is less obvious, their skin color not revealing. Yet they lead a tough existence, working very hard, barely eking out a living under frequently demeaning circumstances.

We certainly can't help all these people. Or can we?

True, we may not all be suited to teach in the Bronx. We may not all be available to care for crack babies in Watts. We can't all run after-school anti-drug programs.

But we can all treat nicely the service people in our lives. And we don't even have to leave our neighborhoods to do so.

I've been in many homes where the cleaning help is treated as subhuman -- ordered around, made to eat separately, severely criticized -- by the same people arguing adamantly in favor of civil rights. Is that who we want to be? Is that what we want our children to see?

Is that who we want to be? Is that what we want our children to see?

It's easy to be dismissive of the bag girl at the supermarket. After all, "I've got a lot to do and if they would only hurry up and load my car." A friend of mine recently stopped to ask the girl helping her how she enjoyed her job. "Grateful to have it," she explained. She had just moved to Los Angeles to start a new life after her husband was murdered and her restaurant went bankrupt.

My friend's attitude sobered. Instead of shrieking "Be careful with the eggs" my friend warmly patted her arm. "Is there anything I could do to help you?"


Isn't it embarrassing to be in a restaurant where a patron is yelling at the waiter? (No second date for him.) Aren't you humiliated watching a customer screaming at the bank officer? Do you avert your eyes as the dry cleaners gets put down?

Do you ever behave the same way?

We are all employers. We have many "employees" serving us throughout the day. Do you remember that they're also human beings?

It isn't always easy. Sometimes they're really annoying. Sometimes they're really incompetent. As I was writing this article, I received a phone call from a close friend. "I hate telemarketers" she began. "They interrupt us. They're trying to sell us something. They rattle on and on and on..."

And they're also real people with a mortgage to pay and children to feed. You don't have to purchase their product. But you do have to behave decently.

So what do you say to a telemarketer? (That we're allowed to print!) How about: "Thank you for calling. I see you're working very hard at your job. I appreciate your effort but I'm not interested right now. Thanks again."

I realize it's not your fault. These computers can really be frustrating, can't they?

And how do you keep from strangling the bank teller? "I realize it's not your fault. These computers can really be frustrating, can't they?"

Or in line at a department store... and you didn't bring a book... "It's so busy here. I see the staff is working really hard to serve everyone properly. These are great colors I picked out, aren't they?"

And then you could always try shopping online...

It's easy to condemn the cold-heartedness of big business, the callousness of large corporations. It's harder to turn the camera inwards. Maybe Xerox isn't the ideal employer. Or Microsoft. Or Federated Stores. But what about you?

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