Have you ever tried to do something nice, and despite your best efforts, it backfired?
Two days ago I was exchanging a faulty vehicle battery at Wal-Mart. Ignoring the unusually long lines of [endeavors to be kind] uncharitable Americans, the
young supervisor, Luke, did his best to maintain his composure and attend to the myriad of needs thrown at him and his team.
During my two trips through the lines to the counter, I heard him make reference to “not having [his] coffee yet.” So as I finished up my exchange and passed by the in-store Dunkin’ Donuts near the exit, I did what I think any other charitable American would have done: I spent $1.97 to buy the guy a medium coffee, and threw some cream and sugar in a bag with stirring sticks and a napkin.
“I’m sorry, I can’t take that sir,” Luke said as I set the coffee down on the service desk counter.
I gawked, repeating his line back to him.
“Yes, I can’t take that.”
I was shocked. Of course, I know what he meant: corporate policy. They’re everywhere. But still, I was shocked.
Luke wanted the coffee, I know he did. He mentioned wanting coffee at least four times while I was in line. But why couldn’t he take it? Most likely because of the dangerous mix of trial lawyers and a litigation-prone populace.
I know how it happened. Maybe not the particular case, but it’s what we all might expect. Somewhere in the not-too-distant past a Wal-Mart employee got caught eating on the job and someone complained; maybe a customer tried to bribe an employee with a gift; maybe someone tried to subversively harm a worker; or maybe it was the all-too-classic “scalding hot coffee” lawsuit epidemic. Whatever the case may be, this Wal-Mart employee could not take a gift from a satisfied customer because of policy.
And 100-years ago? What would Luke have said had I offered the same cup of coffee on a similar -6°F day in the corner market?
“Thanks, Me. Hopper. I really appreciate this. Made my day.”
Now maybe Wal-Mart’s policy is nothing more than they don’t want employees drinking coffee while on the clock. As a business owner, we have similar policies. But I suspect it’s far worse, because Luke could have tucked the styrofoam cup away for later. The reality is, most likely, that previous litigation and millions of dollars in court has forced Wal-Mart to create corporate policies which not only eliminate the negative, fringe incidents, but also the numerous positive ones.
I just read a fascinating article this week on the advances that scientists are finding with using whipworms (Trichuris suis ova) to treat Autism. Yes, Albert Einstein College is actually prescribing that patients ingest pills of aggressive worm larva which naturally attack certain autoimmune diseases. I know, that reads more like an 1864 prescription of using leeches to clean wounds than it does a 2013, first-world medical treatment. But it’s true.
And why do these critters attack the symptoms of Autism? Because some scientists now believe one of the main onsets of Autism and a host of other autoimmune diseases (if not all of them) may be that we’re not dirty enough.
We’re sick because we’re too clean.
I’ve heard this type of premise brought up around the use of anti-bacterial soap before. But Autism?
And possibly a lack of kindness.
The strangest thing to me, and why I felt so let down, is that a policy designed to guard against litigation (or merely to preserve the look of professionalism) actually disallowed me from engaging in kindness.
Policy, if not overseen by a person, will usually always miss the point.
So what did I do with Luke’s coffee? The only thing I can think of.
I turned around and held up the drink. Before the words, “Anyone want a free cup of coffee?” were out of my mouth, a dad with his son raised his hand with a smile.
“I’ll take it!” he said.
He was happy, I was happy…but slightly let down.
The way we attack well-meaning but corrupt policies, whether private or public, is by introducing whipworms. Because while Wal-Mart may have kept me from delivering the coffee, they couldn’t stop me from actually being kind. Though Luke wasn’t the recipient of coffee that day, he was the recipient of kindness, and I know it affected him; the dad who got the coffee also benefited from my kindness; and the line of shoppers behind us were also affected, probably as surprised as I was.
If our attitudes are focused on blessing and not cursing, and overcoming the inferior with the superior, than resistance to virtues only results in a proliferation of their effects. Essentially, efforts to thwart goodness always backfire. It’s a principle of God’s Kingdom.
Wayward policies, as well as diseases, should never rule the day. While they may prevent instances, they are incapable of changing motives.
So when your motives seem thwarted by opposition, do exactly what God did, and descend into the needy lives around you. Get dirty.