I am a barista. I work in a small coffee shop. From early morning, the smell of freshly ground beans charges the air. The aroma soothes and the caffeine energizes, people relax at tables and others jostle to be served. People really love coffee these days and I love to bring that love to life.
“Are you an idiot?” the customer said. “You call yourself a barista and you can’t taste the difference between a fine grind and a coarse one?”
They’re right, I thought, I’m an idiot. I’m a fraud in this job if I don’t know every nuance, if I’m not prepared for every possible question a customer could ask. Now I’ve got it wrong and upset someone. Why did I think I had the skill for this?
I am a gardener. Mowing lawns, trimming hedges and sweeping leaves allows me to earn a living from my love of being outdoors. Seeing the vivid greens in summer and the crisp browns and oranges in autumn creates a haze of appreciation for nature that I can bask in. These simple pleasures satisfy me. I’m very grateful.
“Shut that damn mower off! I work night shift, I’m trying to sleep!” the garden owner’s neighbor shouted.
I didn’t think I’d be disturbing anyone at 10am, but what can I do? The garden owner is paying me to do a job and I have other jobs to do today so I can’t come back later. How did I make someone angry by doing my job?
I am a bus driver. Being on the road is for me. Picking up passengers and taking them where they need to be is for me. I plan my routes, I keep my bus clean, I’m always on time. I try to make it a great journey for the people on board. I take pride in my job and doing it right.
“What do you mean I can’t get on?” the person waiting at the bus stop said.
“I’m sorry, but wearing a mask is now mandatory on public transport,” I said.
“F*ck you!” they said.
I feel so bad for leaving that person behind but I can’t put the other passengers on the bus at risk. I could also lose my job for not enforcing the rules. I hate that I just made their day more difficult but I wish they could have seen it from my point of view.
I saw all these situations. The people in them saw me for the first time and I saw them. I took on board what they said and it worried me for quite a while afterwards. It hurts when people belittle you, tell you you’re bothering them or get angry at you for doing your job.
I am a barista, a gardener, a bus driver. No, I am none of these things. I was imagining what it would be like to be them, I was just wearing their glasses for a minute. But when I next encounter these people, I will feel we are connected. I can make allowances for their difficulties, I can offer help where it might not be expected, I can empathize. I can do the same with anyone.