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King: Policy turns us against each other
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Our culture is making us sick.

No, this is not another rant about toxins in our food, pathogens in the water or cancer-causing radiation in the environment. I’m talking about our social behavior. It’s dysfunctional, and it’s making us ill.

The other day I was pushing my grocery cart toward the check out line when a man moved in front of me. He had been standing in the adjacent lane and got tired of waiting. He was a nice-looking guy, early middle age, neatly dressed with a well-trimmed beard. As we waited, I commented that it didn’t matter which line one got in, it was bound to take longer than the one next to it.

“Yeah, that woman,” and he gestured to the line he had recently left, “has over a hundred coupons.”

Being a talkative soul I continued the conversation. “Someone needs to explain this coupon business to me,” I said. “They’re everywhere, but they’re never for anything I want or need. Most of the stuff isn’t even healthy.”

“Yeah,” he said again. “Just take a look at her,” and this is when I realized that this man may have been nice-looking, but he wasn’t much of a gentleman. The unfortunate woman was extremely obese.

Our line began to move, and the checkout girl rang up his purchases. It appeared that my own shopping wouldn’t take that long after all. Then the trouble started. He expected some sort of rebate or exchange he wasn’t going to get. He argued with the clerk. The manager was called. They both explained that what ever it was he wanted wasn’t available any more.

The man began to raise his voice. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. Why can’t you do it now? Why is there always some kind of a hold-up when I come in this store?”

“Sir,” the manager said politely. “It’s store policy. I can’t do anything about it.”

“But you’re the manager!” The man was yelling now. “What kind of store is this? I’ve had enough.”

He turned to the checkout girl. “I’ll never come in here again.”

He was about to leave when I couldn’t resist becoming involved.

“Sir,” I said as calmly as I could. “Don’t yell at the poor clerk. She’s just doing her job. She doesn’t make policy.”

“That man’s the manager. He should be able to handle this.” This guy was not about to back down.

“He doesn’t make policy, either,” I said. “If you are really angry, go after the people who do. Write a letter to corporate headquarters.”

“I can’t be bothered with that sort of thing. It wouldn’t do any good anyway.” And he stalked off.

Still trying to be a peacemaker, I apologized to the clerk. “I’m so sorry. It’s must be difficult.”

“Don’t worry,” she said sourly. “It happens every day. I’m used to it.”

This is what I mean when I say our culture is making us sick, and it does happen every day. Things change. They get more difficult. They get more complicated. Various procedures are put in place to make the business, the bank or the office run more efficiently, but for whom? Usually, it’s not the customer or the employees.

Last week when I made out a check for my groceries, the clerk asked for my driver’s license. Unfortunately, I’d left it at home. The manager was called, but he couldn’t override company policy. Despite the fact that I had shopped at that store since it opened and was known to everyone there, they couldn’t accept the check without my driver’s license.

With no time left in the day to go home and come back, I had to leave everything at the store for their employees to return to the shelf. The result: Everyone was inconvenienced.

I apologized. No point in being angry with them, but when this column is published, I’ll send a copy to company headquarters.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at

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