We took one of our grandchildren on trip to New York recently (which now means we have to take all of our grandchildren, but that’s another story!). We played tourist and did all those things you secretly want to do but are too embarrassed to acknowledge, including a ride on a horse and carriage in Central Park. We had a great time and so did she.

At many of the tourist sites, there is someone stationed at the entrance offering to take your picture – and someone at the exit trying to sell it to you for an exorbitant price. In most cases we just refused the initial offer. But at one particular spot (which shall remain nameless for reasons that follow) we decided to horse around and take a sort of goofy picture. So we were open to seeing it and even possibly purchasing it. We couldn’t figure out how to view the picture so we waited at the check-out while the cashier was on the phone.

We waited and we waited and we waited. The employee kept her head down so it was impossible to even ask her a quick question or make any hand motions. The conversation droned on as she continued to ignore us and we continued to wait, thoughts of a really cute souvenir of our trip dominating our minds. She finally put down the phone and looked up.

“How do we view our photo?” we asked.

“Oh, the machine’s broken,” she replied. “You’ll have to look it up online when you get home.”

I was really frustrated. Not because I didn’t get the picture. Not even because of the time spent standing in line. But because of her rudeness. She could have lifted her head up for two seconds and told us it was broken. She could have asked the person she was speaking with to hold for a minute while she explained the situation. She could have even written it down on a piece of paper as she talked and, without even missing a beat, she could have shown it to us and we would have been on our way.

I was upset by the lack of consideration. It’s very easy to go on a rant about the lack of customer service these days (how many sales help are on their phones and resent the interruption?) but I actually think it’s deeper than that. It really reflects a complete indifference to other people, a complete lack of concern for them and their time and/or needs.

It’s more frustrating when it’s a situation where we are a paying customer but the lack of good character is troubling, job or not. To make us stand and wait (or perhaps she hoped we’d just give up and go away) while she carried on her (most likely personal) conversation was thoughtless and inconsiderate (besides being bad business).

The temptation in these circumstances is to respond out of frustration, anger or resentment. But I know it’s not who I want to be.

And I believe that the way most of us behave in these situations, jobs or not, is probably similar to the way we act in our more personal and important relationships. If you’re rude at work, it’s unlikely you’re all smiles and thoughtfulness at home. And the converse is probably true as well. This makes the trend more disturbing because it seems to reflect a breakdown in character across society. And that should give us all pause.

The temptation in these circumstances is to respond out of frustration, anger or resentment. The challenge, as in all similar scenarios, is not to stoop to their level. In fact the ideal would be to use it as an opportunity for growth. In our case, I had my granddaughter looking on and I knew she was watching (and that my behavior would be reported to her mother) so I had extra incentive to control myself.

But even without her there, even without the heavier reminder that the Almighty is always watching, I know it’s not who I want to be. I know that I just want to find a way to take advantage of the situation, no matter how unlikely the possibility seems.

In this and in many of the other times when we are in public forums – at the grocery store, the department store, on a crowded street – I like to tell myself what personality trait I’m working on. Today’s goal is “patience” I will repeat. Over and over and over if necessary. Until it sinks in. Until I can wait calmly. Until a smile returns to my face.

With that reframe, frustrating encounters become opportunities for growth. I still think the tourist site alluded to above should up their game, fix their photo machine (it was probably such a cute picture!) and hire better help. But we still had a good time and I got to become a more patient human being as well. Win-win from my perspective.