My daughter and I made a fun excursion to Wal-Mart recently, and when we came to the checkout line I said what I often say to the clerks in stores.
“How’s your day?” I asked. The clerk let out a big sigh.
“I’m tired,” she said.
“Are you at the beginning of your shift or the end?” I asked.
“Close to the end,” she said.
“Well, you’re gonna make it!” I told her, in my best cheerleader voice.
My daughter later commented on my kindness to the clerk.
“I try to see people,” I told her. “It’s easy to walk right past these people who serve us in stores and not even notice them.”
My mind went back to weekend garage sales in my grandma’s garage. Grandma had a huge garage, and she set up tables and clothes racks that she left up all summer. On the weekends, she would open her doors, and people would stop by all the time. She had developed a reputation for staging an immaculate, classy garage sale.
But what I remember most was how Grandma treated every person who stopped at the little table to pay for their new treasures.
“Watch,” Grandma said. “This is how you do it.”
A woman approached, and Grandma said, “What a lovely purse you have.” The lady smiled.
“See,” Grandma said, after the lady paid and left. “Everybody likes to receive a compliment. It makes them smile.” This was part of the garage sale experience –the way Grandma treated her customers.
She would call it “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” which means adding a little bit of class to everything you do.
Years later, when I was a college student and working summers at Mr. D’s Grocery Store in Lander, Wyoming, I read an article that said a person's pupils actually change in dilation when you greet them cheerfully and look them in the eye. They have a positive physical response to the attention. That sounded an awful lot like the lessons I was getting from Grandma all those summers when I was growing up, so I gave it a try.
In practicing a personal greeting and intentional look in the eye, I could sense people’s countenance change. I didn’t stare at them, to see if their eyes dilated, but I could measure smiles.
Seeing people and taking a second to speak to them as a human being is a skill anyone can learn. Both shy people and outgoing people can do this.
And I believe it’s a skill we need to teach our kids, the way Grandma taught me.
There’s one thing we can assume, as we cross paths with people during our day: Everyone wants to know someone cares about them. Everyone wants to be seen as a person who is valuable, and sometimes 10 seconds of caring can help someone through a very hard hour.
So will you teach your sweet kiddos how to notice people? It’s the best schooling they’ll get.