Rx for change: civility

Fiction 59
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I was at the pharmacy the other day, biding time at the counter waiting for the clerk in the back, when I overheard one of her colleagues wrangling with a customer on the phone. I couldn’t ascertain any personal data; I just heard minute after minute of circular conversation that ended with the woman in the Rx coat saying something to the effect of, “If you’d like to come down here, I’d be happy to show you what’s on the computer.”

By then, my clerk had returned. “She’s got quite the touch with those calls, doesn’t she?” I said.

“You wouldn’t believe what people say to us,” the clerk replied with a deep sigh.

Actually, I would, and not just because I hear and read my share of vitriol in this job. I’ve stood in many a line at pharmacies, banks and other businesses; sat at many a table in restaurants and in many a chair in waiting rooms; and the hair-trigger temper of customers never ceases to amaze me.

Now, I’m no monk or angel. I get frustrated. It pleases me not to wait for 15 minutes, get to the counter and learn my prescription hasn’t been filled because the pharmacist fell behind, they didn’t hear from a doctor or some arcane insurance rule gummed up the works—and no one bothered to give me a heads-up call so I could do something other than pain in vain.

Still, unless the person across from me delivers bad news rudely, I try to refrain from venting frustration. He/she probably had nothing to do with the hold-up, and invariably an apology gets uttered, so why rebuff courtesy with cacophony?

My mom (or was it my dad?) once told me that once you escalate a conversation past a certain level, there’s no turning back. Start off with an expletive or a yell, and no amount of crow-eating will get you the treatment you’d have gotten with calmness. You always can amp up the pressure; once high, it’s hard to scale down.

I mention all this not just because of the poor pharmacy clerk, but because it relates to a broader discussion of values forwarded last issue by Paul Zingg. Chico State’s president wrote a cover story, “Shaping our shared future,” that includes a passage about community character:

“No values are more important than civility, respect, tolerance, and service. They enable us—fellow citizens and neighbors—to have productive and positive conversations on even the most difficult and potentially divisive issues. They enable us to imagine boldly, to take risks together, to trust intuition, to seek agreement—and to avoid paralysis, cynicism, and polarization. Most of all, they are the foundation for choosing wisely and moving forward in new, creative ways.”

Civility doesn’t begin at a cash register, but it certainly gets reflected there. Call it karma, call it kismet, call it the ripple effect; we get what we give.

Complaints often have merit and should be aired. If not, change would never come. Always keep in mind, though, that positive resolution is more likely from compassion than conflict.

My grandma (or was it my aunt?) liked to say you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So true, and so vital.