I was in the car on my way to the hospital for a routine appointment the other day, listening to a piece on BBC R4 about how waiters and people in service jobs are experiencing less courtesy and more aggression as we go through this stage of the pandemic. People shout more and tip less, while servers in pubs and bars now have to ‘discipline’ their customers as well as serve them.
‘Road rage has become restaurant rage,’ said one contributor, while another noted that the pandemic has turned us all into each others’ policemen, often pointing the finger at other people for acting irresponsibly or not taking the pandemic seriously enough.
I didn’t hear the rest of the piece because I arrived at the hospital for my blood test. I took my little paper ticket from the machine and as I sat watching the numbers slowly tick up towards mine, I remembered the sullen phlebotomist. The last three times I’ve been there I’ve had the same clearly unhappy guy take my blood. He never says a word except to ask my name and date of birth (fair enough, it’s not his job) and he always leaves me with a nasty bruise on my arm, so the whole experience is literally and metaphorically painful.
I don’t know his story. Last time I was there I almost enquired if he was OK. But I didn’t.
So I was having an internal word with myself about being convivial and not judging, when my number came up. I walked in, sleeve rolled up, blood test requirements at the ready, positive attitude in place – and he wasn’t there.
The woman taking my blood instead asked my name and date of birth, noticed it was nearly my birthday and, while doing the same one-minute job as her colleague, had a nice little chat about the Indian restaurant my wife and I were heading to that evening to celebrate.
When I got home I listened to the rest of the radio piece about how people are treating each other during the pandemic. It focused on how a positive attitude to other people, especially in trying times like these, is something you can only address in yourself.
My ears pricked up because this is a major theme in our book, ‘The Talking Revolution’. Taking personal responsibility for the health of all our relationships, even the briefest of interactions, is something we can all do right now, without having to ‘police’ anyone or ask anyone’s permission.
And it’s extraordinary how powerful the effect of that can be – far more so than complaining or blaming. It’s what I’d just experienced at the hands of that chatty phlebotomist, which definitely lightened my mood and made me want to pass it on.
As the broadcaster said at the end of the radio piece, ‘Kindness is catching’.