The Efficiency of Kindness

Last week at the Trader Joe’s, I picked up some groceries and stood in line. The cashier was reaching into this overfilled shopping cart and ringing up the items. The future owner of all of these groceries at the other end of the register and putting all of the groceries in paper bags.

For a couple moments, I just looked at this process and realized that I was just an idle by-stander doing absolutely nothing. So, I started to take things out of the shopping cart, so the cashier could focus on ringing up the groceries. At first the women, “Oh…no…no. That’s okay. Don’t worry about.” And, I responded, “No, no. That’s okay.”

Later, she said to me, “You are the best customer.” I am not too sure if that is the case, but I will say that it made for a far more enjoyable 20 minutes at the grocery store. Not only was I actively engaged in something aside from being caught up in my thoughts, but also I was part of an experiment: The Efficiency of Kindness.

In a previous time, we lived in smaller communities or villages, where we knew the cashier, the fellow shopper, etc. We knew their families, we knew their trade, we knew their hardships, we knew them as humans. We were there for one and other — just because and no other reason.

The difference between today and this “previous time” is that our community has become faceless. We have our immediate family and friends, and then everyone else. Whether we go to a self-service counter or not at the grocery store, we can now pick up our food without talking to a single human being.
The current model of capitalism is simple: I pay money, you give me something. Intelligence and logic has enabled and will continue to make that exchange of goods and services as efficient as possible. But, I believe there are consequences.

We now go to the grocery store with the intent of getting back home as quickly as possible. We may be coming back to have dinner with our families, but it seems like a lot of us are just rushing back, so we can turn on Netflix or our televisions. Why do we watch Netflix? To laugh? To cry? To enjoy the world of 2D images of people interacting? We have become so efficient that we have replaced real human interactions at the grocery store with passively witnessing human interactions on a screen.

There in lies the rub, we actually never created greater efficiencies, we merely shifted human needs from the real to virtual world.

Image source: Monkey Pictures

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