For several months during the COVID pandemic, the convenience store where I pick up fountain drinks several times a week prominently posted a sign. Only one person was allowed at the fountain drink station at a time. Like many stores, stickers were placed on the floor six feet apart to encourage people to keep their distance from one another. It seemed most people obliged. I heard very few complaints. Even people who prefer not to wear masks for one reason or another seemed to follow the one-person-at-a-time rule. I doubt the store personnel would have policed it well. They were often busy with other customers or restocking shelves. I think customers would have policed each other more if needed.
I’m not sure when the sign was removed. Perhaps it was during the summer months when case numbers were down and precautions loosened a bit. But then we began to lose ground again, and we needed to be a bit more alert. Several months passed. I was in the convenience store getting a drink. I turned around to see a line of people, mostly spaced about 6 feet apart. There was no sign, nothing preventing someone from joining me at the drink station. I mentioned it aloud, “I appreciate how we all continue to respect each other’s space even though there’s no longer a sign that reminds us.” A couple people agreed. A couple others laughed, because they hadn’t noticed the sign was no longer posted.
Sometimes we don’t need a written reminder. We don’t need a rule that’s forced upon us. We are guided by a principle of respect, compassion, or truth. I’m not primarily focusing on COVID guidelines. Think much broader. We so often think of guidelines as the boundaries projected upon us. We think of them from a selfish perspective, how we are personally inconvenienced. If it imposes on us, we think it’s ridiculous and unnecessary. But what about broadening our perspectives, bringing others—including strangers—into our sphere? What if we were more offended by how something held back or negatively impacted others than on the way we would be personally effected?
I know our common sense as a culture seems to have declined over the decades, which I think is a complicated dynamic that is not easily reversed. What about our common decency and respect? I know it hasn’t completely disappeared. I see examples of it in everyday life. But it is not prominent. Maybe we behave within our actions, but when we listen to our conversations, are we truly considering the best response with respect, compassion, and truth? Are we helping one another through our journeys and struggles? Are we leaving places and people better than we found them? I know we can’t do it all, but I think we can be better.
Maybe we can each start by considering what unposted signs we abide by. What do we not need the reminder to do or not do? What drives our decisions and conversations across many situations? Let’s not just look at how we treat people we want to impress or the people we care for the most. Let’s consider the people we are not invested in or in contact with much, if at all. Let’s consider the people on the fringes of our lives. It might be time to get more consistent. Of course, we change and should constantly be growing. Let’s do that better in a larger circle of influence. Let’s make a difference and leave every situation, conversation, and person a little better—or at least try.
Let’s be authentic and constructive. God tends to pair the two.