Why are you more important than me again?

It’s busy today at the market. There are only three checkouts open, every one of which has a minimum of four customers. I’m 7th in line at the express desk, wishing they’d open the second express. The grocery store angel hears me and they open the till next to me and post the “Express” sign. Now I’m third in line. 

The woman behind me asks, “I have only one item, can I go ahead of you?” I don’t really want to give up my space, even if she only has one item, so I check the other express line. 

Thinking I’m doing her a favour, I point to it and tell her “there are fewer people on that one, if you go there, you’ll get through before I will.” She glances at my basket, shoots me a dirty look and as she heads over there says, “This is the express desk” and points to the sign above the till. “9 items or less” it reads. I count, just to be sure. Yup. Eight items. I’m good. She can glare all she likes. But I still feel guilty for not letting her go ahead of me. Grrr. Makes me mad that I’m so susceptible to that sort of thing.

Somehow, we end up at our respective tills at the same time – they’re right next to each other, and she glares at me as she puts her item (remember? One item?) on the belt. Bananas. I look back with a bland expression, but I still feel bad, as if it’s somehow my fault that she ended up taking as long as she would have if I had given her my place. My intent was both benevolent and self-serving. I really thought she’d get through ahead of me with only one person ahead of her in the line, instead of two, which is what I had. And I really didn’t want to give my place up. I thought this was a win-win solution, but why is she so angry and why do I feel so fruffled up and edgy?

It takes her clerk the same amount of time to check through her single item as it does mine to check through my 8 and ask me if I need two bags or one. I know her clerk. Jen’s been working at the store for years, and she’s one of the fastest clerks they have – she has to be to be on the express desk. All the time the customer glares at me as if I’ve committed something worse than a mortal sin, to have refused her what she wanted, and ended up making her take more time at the till.

She leaves a couple of seconds before me – with not just banans in her bag. I can see the outlines of one box, and a round container, as well as the familiar shape of the bunch of bananas pressing against the bag.

Why, even when I see she tried to scam me for a place in line, am I still feeling ruffled and upset about the entire episode? I’m the good guy here. I tried to get her through faster than my spot would have while keeping my place, I had fewer than the maximum number of items, I was polite and respectful.

She demanded a spot ahead of me (her words were questions, her tone was demanding) and her demand and her tone both implied that her time was more valuable than mine, and that she somehow had a right to go before I did. She assumed I was breaking the rules by taking more than the maximum number of items through the express till, and tried to make me feel guilty about it. Her steady stare implied that she was angry at me because her line up moved slower than mine, and her clerk took as long as mine did.  So why do I feel like the bad guy in this? 

How do people like her do that to people like me? And how do I stop falling for it?


5 comments on “Why are you more important than me again?

  1. Mimi says:

    I do not know the answer, but I do it too. Sigh. Hugs.
    If you are like me, then I stew about it for a few days too. Lord have Mercy

  2. Ada says:

    I don’t know about you but… I feel guilty because I am guilty. it often happens to me (not necessarily in the same context).

    We are not asked to do the “right thing” towards our neighbor. we’re asked, or better said advised, to “love” our neighbor. and if I would love the one who asks to go ahead, I would just let him go ahead (simply because he wishes to, and that’s what you do with loved ones: you try to fulfill their wishes).

    But I don’t love him, I love myself more and my mind thinks of logic answers for saying no. I then try to come up with something that would righteously entitle me to say no and I am even happy if I can offer a helpful alternative. everything would have go great if my logic prediction would come true but that’s not the point. even if she does finish faster, I would have still refused her her wish, and hence I did not act out of love.

    She demanded to go ahead of me and this hurt my pride. I did not “love my neighbor as myself”. That’s why my conscious is nagging me and not because she didn’t get out faster than I as I logically assumed.

    I post this more than a year later, but I post nonetheless because I think this issue doesn’t get outdated.

    • bevcooke says:

      Because of the way she presented her request, I thought I was fulfilling her wish – to get through the checkout process faster than she would be standing in line behind me. I treated her respectfully and lovingly, was polite and soft-spoken, and tried to help. I wasn’t “breaking the rules” even though she made it clear she thought I was, and I had no control over the events that delayed her in the other line. She had the choice, remember. She didn’t have to move over to the other, shorter line, if she chose not to – she could have asked again that I allow her to precede me, could have moved to another line, or she could have simply stayed in line where she was, or she could have communicated what her “real” wish was.

      Sometimes there is more than one loving response, and I don’t think it’s wrong or selfish to try and bring about a situation in which both of us get what we want. But in order to get what we want, we have to be clear about communicating what we really do want. In this case, what she seems to have wanted was to have the situation in her entire control and get exactly what she asked for – to precede me in the line-up. But she didn’t make that clear. If I had discerned that at the time, I might have given her her way, even though I didn’t want to, but that is not how she presented it to me – she presented it as simply wanting to get through the process faster than she would by standing behind me. If others don’t communicate their true wishes to us, then we aren’t unloving when we try to fulfil the wish or desire that has been expressed, and if we come out of the situation feeling bad or wrong for having tried to act lovingly, then we’ve allowed ourselves to be manipulated – as I think happened in this case.

  3. Ada says:

    P.S.: out of line, but don’t know how else to tell you this: Thank you for writing “Royal Monastic”. I’m Romanian and my name is Alexandra and I received your book as a birthday gift this year from a friend. I am happy to read it and I found out out your blog from its last page.

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