When I was a young man restarting my career in Mental Health, I remember being placed in a retail setting with a few colleagues for a short while. We were a charitable provider that focused on rehabilitating people with disabilities. There were three sections to our workplace; admin, furniture restoration, and retail.
Throughout the years I had worked my way up from admin lackey to supervising the entire office, but as the funding dwindled out with the global financial crash and subsequent tightening of expenses, our work and our customers massively reduced in size. I can remember spending the whole day on Facebook once, we were that quiet.
The Charity shop was the third part of the business, and it was a large part of the funding intake of the work that we did. Our organization had lost out on many funding bids to the local council that had previously been ours, and I was left sometimes on my own for days in an empty office. Luckily, I was asked to take care of the retail side to cover an onslaught of absences they were going through. This meant I would be busy for the first time in many weeks.
I was placed with a lady, let’s call her X, to protect her identity. I was really excited to be working with this girl because I had known her since I first joined, and she had always been very respectful and courteous towards me. It was safe to say that I enjoyed her company. Anyway, the joining of two work colleagues with wildly different skills provided an interesting set of challenges. The most notable being as we were wrapping up for the day.
I had much to learn as a fresh face in the shop, never having done a day’s work in retail ever. My background had been catering and administration, an interesting skillset mixture but definitely an awesome set to bring to the table regardless.
The end-of-shift duties were being rigorously pounded into my memory; it was an important time of the day. There was money involved, and money was important especially as we were a charity. X proceeded to show me how to protect the day’s takings. The big notes are kept on the inside whilst the smaller notes and small change on the outside – the process was rather long and drawn out, and as I watched her do this, I saw a rather complicated process that need not be. I asked her reasoning for all of this insanity.
In her mind, if someone was to come and rob the shop then they would be more inclined to see the smaller notes on the outside and either only take some or even think the money is not worth taking.
Okay, so I’ll admit that I was a bit of a kleptomaniac in my youth, and this made no sense to me at all – if I was going to rob a charity shop, I’d be taking whatever I could get. I wouldn’t just take a few or leave the bag, I’d rob the whole god damn thing. Needless to say, I tried to get her to see it my way, but it was fruitless. In her mind, her way was the best way to accomplish these goals; after all the shop hadn’t been robbed yet, so something must be going well.
I reflected on this, and although we both saw a different solution to the problem, each with their own merits and faults, we both ended up at the same results, and we both had the safety of the money at the core.
I was younger back then, and perhaps a bit more reactive and naïve than I am now, but I see exaggerated examples of this in everyday life.
One of my pet peeves is hearing or seeing someone say, “If you feel defensive over this then perhaps you are one that really needs to hear this message”.
X was very defensive that I even dared question her methods to securing the money at night, but I never thought she had any ill intention or was being lackluster with the day’s takings, and I doubt she ever questioned my intentions to the main goal either.
Now you might be asking why I’m using an example of modern-day culture with a time long ago when I did a few shifts in a charity shop – but I see a relation there. Our methods and perspectives were from entirely different backgrounds that in a normal workday balance would probably never meet, perhaps only to pass departmental information to and fro, but our goals aligned. We had the same outcome at heart.
And I see that with every part of life these days. People partitioning themselves off into neat little clusters advocating for one thing or another, getting lost in the fine details rather than celebrating the wider goals that each and every one of us shares. My closest friend is a raving conservative, and we often have long discussions about Political spheres and we never agree – but at the base, we both want the same outcomes in life. We just have different ideas of how that’s achieved. I’ve always been of the mind that our biggest enemies are our own ego’s inability to see the larger picture – myself included
It’s hard. I love people. People interest me. I know through rigorous experience that we share more in common than we have at conflict with one another. I keep saying understanding is the key to progression in life, but when we choose to invalidate those around us by shouting at them, or mocking them, or blocking them, then we grow that little closer to creating ravines between ourselves, existing in our own thought bubbles, and dissenting opinion becomes a little harder to hear every time.
I’m often accused of not joining a cause and taking a stand, that in a western world full of emotional turmoil I should be joining a side and defending it fiercely, but I absolutely refuse to be drawn into an eternal blame game; where one side attacks another and then vice versa, continually invalidating the experiences of one another because they don’t “think the same” as us. I point blank refuse.
I celebrate diversity.
I like to let people keep their opinions as long as it isn’t anything outrageous. One man I talked to long ago wanted to bring back hanging people that had been unemployed for a certain amount of time. I remember rolling my eyes and walking off – but if I had sat and talked to him for a while, I would have found out his rather extreme point of view stemmed from a time that he was a victim of violence at the hands of an unemployed person he was trying to help.
Everyone has a story. Our views and opinions are derived from our life experience, and no two life experiences are the same. I can’t remember who said it, but reality is subjective.
Can we start to be less critical and more understanding of each other?
This is my life’s goal.
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