The first time I felt superior towards someone was while working a summer job at the local “Target”. My cashier’s job gave me enough pocket money to buy too many cups of coffee at the nearby gas station, a pack of cigarettes per day and gas for my scooter. I was quite young and very insecure. Our boss was a severe, angry man who would scold anyone he could corner and he’d start every day by yelling at his employees. It was like any other morning at the store. I had been working there for a bit over a month. During my second month there our boss hired a few new summer employees just like me. I sat at the cashiers chair and the customers kept lining up. People would sigh and tap their foot because it was taking me such a long time to figure out a missing price on a clay plant pot. With my shaky voice I called for help through the in-house speaker. No-one came to my rescue. I called for “Staff to cash register number 2” the second time and finally one of the new girls ran over to me. She was very beautiful with a long brown wavy hair and she was a few years older than I was. She smiled and sat down next to me and started ringing people up. The endless line of sulky, impatient people was gone in just a few moments. She was leaving and as she smiled at me I snapped at her: “Next time you better come the first time I call for you!”
My condescending comment took place over fifteen years ago but it still haunts me. I’m sure the girl, older and smarter than me, didn’t think anything of it but it made me think of myself in a new way. What gave me the right to talk to her like that? Who am I to scold someone who is clearly doing their job well? Why would I repeat a behavior that made me unsure and plain scared every morning I had to run by our stressed out boss?
I wish I could say that I never spoke ill of anyone after that summer. I wish I was the person who everyone considered to be righteous and fair – at all times. But I can’t say that. I’ve judged people and thought of them as ignorant or “raised in a barn “. I still do. But every time I judge someone or think ill of them, I force myself back to that day at the cashiers chair and ask myself: “Why am I above them? Who am I to judge?”
Our short but long year in California brought these feelings to surface more than a few times. We moved to Escondido and worked at a backyard horse stable, me exercising the horses and teaching pony lessons, Chris building a new tack room down by the mare pens. The married couple we worked for was quite rich and they tend to be a tad condescending not only towards us but my students and other people working at the yard as well. One morning while we were working under the burning sun the married couple got into an argument with one another. “Don’t you talk to me like that in front of the help!” she said to her husband. I don’t know what I felt more: amused or stunned.
That was the first and (so far) the last time I was called “The Help” but it definitely wasn’t the last time I was considered being less worthy because of how little money I made or for being a foreigner. One of my employers told me once that for the longest time she thought I was “dumb as a bucket” because I barely spoke and the little that I did was broken English. It wasn’t rare for me to be yelled at, talked down to or told that I “sucked” at something I thought I was fairly good at. Once I learned not to take it personally it didn’t sting anymore. I would smile and do better, but every time someone would use their power over me (usually it meant not getting paid for the hours I had worked) or if someone tried and make me feel less than I was, I would be quick to lose my respect towards them. In a way it made me as bad as them “Judgmental and not very understanding”. It also felt like freedom to me. I wasn’t able to demand respect but I sure as hell was able to decide to whom I wanted to work for.
There’s something wrong with a world where one has a burning need to feel superior to others. After reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” I go back in time and think of the way people acted towards the Mexicans in California, or me “The Dumb Bucket” on the East Coast… and it’s no comparison. It’s impossible for me to comprehend how people have lost their lives and loved ones because of the way they look or whose sons they were. I understand so little that I feel like a hypocrite just writing about it.
I hope for a world where your worth is not measured by how big of a house (or a trailer) you live in or what you make in a year. I wish that people who are talked down to and yelled at will never forget their worth and that they would understand that using one’s power over someone tells a thousand times more about the abuser than the one being yelled at. I hope that all those minds broken by mean words and ill opinions would once heal. I hope that more and more people will stop reacting to negativity with negativity. I hope that we all catch ourselves sitting in that cashiers chair understanding that we are all one. None the better, none the worse. Equal.