It seems we're running low on all sorts of supplies. But kindness need not be scarce.

·5 min read

Fourteen years ago, I stood in a drugstore and watched a middle-aged woman with a Christmas angel pin on her lapel loudly berate two young clerks because she couldn’t buy her favorite brand of chewing gum.

"I've been in here three times in the last week, and three times you haven't had it," she said, jabbing her finger at the rack that held dozens of other brands of gum. "This is outrageous."

The clerks repeatedly apologized, but that wasn’t good enough. She threatened never to return to that store if they failed to stock her gum. As I wrote in a column at the time, I was willing to lead a round of applause on that one. I was steaming, which helped no one. The store employees just continued to apologize and assured her they would order it that very day.

Our irritation is showing

I’ve been thinking about that moment a lot lately as news coverage has ramped up about supply chain shortages and irate customers who’ve had it up to here with the costs of this pandemic. One story after another chronicles a list of grievances: Irregular store and restaurant hours because of staff shortages, long waits for food to our tables, empty shelves and lengthy back-orders. This is not bringing out the best in some of us.

As Micheline Maynard recently wrote for the Washington Post, “Rather than living constantly on the verge of throwing a fit, and risking taking it out on overwhelmed servers, struggling shop owners or late-arriving delivery people, we’d do ourselves a favor by consciously lowering expectations.”

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This customer misconduct is nothing new. We’ve just found a new excuse for it.

We’re angry at everybody now, it seems, or maybe those evergreen complaints are just irritating me more. Lately, I’ve watched post after post on social media blow up after someone complains about holding the door for a fellow customer who fails to say thank you. Within a dozen responses that ungrateful stranger morphs from rude and inconsiderate into the spawn of Satan and all that is wrong with our world.

Empty shelves are seen at an IKEA store on Oct. 15, 2021 in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York City.  Executives at IKEA have warned of supply chain disruption that could last into next year leaving some stores without certain items. Stores in North America are expected to be hardest hit by product shortages first and then followed by stores in Europe.
Empty shelves are seen at an IKEA store on Oct. 15, 2021 in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York City. Executives at IKEA have warned of supply chain disruption that could last into next year leaving some stores without certain items. Stores in North America are expected to be hardest hit by product shortages first and then followed by stores in Europe.

I’m no innocent here. My issue with the thankless among us travels on four wheels. I’m in rush hour traffic several times a week, and lately I seemed to have lost the spirit behind an intended kindness. I let one person after another cut in front of me, and when they fail to give me that little wave I sometimes yell in my hermetically sealed car: “It would kill you to say thank you?”

Granted, I’m the overkill queen of roadway gratitude. You let me cut in front of you and I wave and smile like you’ve just pulled one of my children out of the river. My husband was once in the passenger seat when, after a driver allowed me to merge into traffic during a snowstorm, I rolled down my window and waved like a homecoming queen at halftime.

“I was afraid she wouldn’t see me thank her,” I said, now covered with snow.

“Oh-kaay,” he said, very slowly.

I am my mother’s daughter. Or I used to be, before this pandemic.

A discussion about motives here might be helpful. Kindness with strings attached is just another version of neediness. Could it be that, after 18 months of a pandemic, we are searching for reasons to feel good about ourselves? Maybe so, but why are we taking it out on everyone else?

Burning yourself with coals of anger

For more than a week I’ve been foraging around our house for one of my favorite books, a marked-up copy of Pema Chodron’s 1994 book, “Start Where You Are.” I finally found it in the room where I had started looking, so don’t tell me I can’t be ironic.

Chodron is an American Buddhist nun, so we have at least one thing in common. But one needn’t be a Buddhist or a nun, or even an American, to appreciate her take on this righteous indignation we are feeling these days.

“When you get to tell someone off,” she writes, “you might feel pretty good for a while, but somehow the sense of righteous indignation and hatred grows, and it hurts you. It’s as if you pick up hot coals with your bare hands and throw them at your enemy. If the coals happen to hit him, he will be hurt. But in the meantime, you are guaranteed to be burned.”

Some people are truly hurting because of supply shortages. If you need diapers for your baby, you don’t want to hear about the bottleneck of trucks on the West Coast. When you rely on a bus to shop for groceries, you’re stuck with whatever your store can stock. Those of us lucky enough to make do because we can, and not because we have to, might benefit from shifting our focus.

More:Fixing port backup in Los Angeles won't quickly solve supply chain woes

Chodron suggests we get better at tending to ourselves: “What you do for yourself – any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing toward yourself – will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you experience the world.”

Most of us are better than our worst moments, and today we get to try again. Lest anyone think I’m preaching or feeling superior, I want to add that every passage I quoted from Chodron’s book I’d underlined in 1994. Entire chapters, riddled with notes, are sounding brand new to me.

This is me, starting where I am, all over again, inviting you to cut in line.

USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @ConnieSchultz

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Connie Schultz: Supply chain shortages don't have to include kindness

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