Optimist that I am, I have high hopes that this economic downturn will make people kinder.
It could happen.
When folks experience setbacks, it's humbling. Humility, in turn, makes the heart kinder and the spirit gentler. Too many people have become mean. Downright, spirit-crushing mean. It sickens my soul.
Recently while on a trip, I was shopping in a boutique. I had been walking Dixie Dew and stopped to gaze in the window. The owner opened the door and said in a lilting Southern voice, "Good morning, y'all! You're welcome to come in, if you like."
"With her?" I pointed to Dixie Dew.
"Absolutely. We love dogs."
So, Dew and I went in and I began pulling clothes off the rack to try on. The three sales ladies were warm, friendly and hospitable. Another customer was browsing and struck up a conversation with Dew.
"She's adorable," she said in a thick, Northeastern accent. She pushed her glasses back on her nose and squatted down to pet Dixie Dew. The lady was in her early 60s.
A few minutes later, as I headed to a dressing room, I overheard the lady, who was checking out, ask for a box for the sale items that she was buying. The store's policy was not to give boxes for sale items. Everyone has to be cautious in this economic environment.
What ensued lacked prettiness. The woman did not act pretty, which told me that she did not have a Southern mother who had preached to her, "Pretty is as pretty does."
She left and the atmosphere breathed a sigh of relief. A few minutes later, she reappeared. She stormed in, threw the bag down that the items had been in and said, "Here's your bag back. I don't want you to give me anything."
The owner, who had not witnessed the previous ugliness, gently questioned her. The woman acted meaner and meaner. She then stormed out of the store and verbally lit into the sales clerk sweeping the entrance, who had waited on her. Then, furiously, she stomped off. The sales clerk crumbled in tears and the owner marched out to console her and assure her that she had done nothing wrong.
I was heart sick.
Dear friends, we have to stop this. I have been guilty of saying things I shouldn't have said, using tones of voice I shouldn't have used. But I have seen the proverbial light and realized that ugliness to others has to stop somewhere. Seemed like a good idea to let it start with me.
We all have the right to differ in opinion and disagree but we have a responsibility to do it in a gentle, respectful manner.
One day I looked up on an online bookseller a faith-based best-seller that has sold more than 25 million copies. Obviously, its message has touched a lot of lives, including mine. My breath was taken away by the vicious reviews of those who disagreed theologically with the author. Whew. Things have really hit rock bottom when the Christians start skewering each other.
What mean people don't realize is that they're the ones who look bad. A woman, once a friend, sent a scathing e-mail to me, full of ugliness. I deleted it after scanning the first sentence. I do not read mean mail. In a final thrust of ugliness, she blind copied several others. One by one, they called to say, "I can't believe how classless. It has totally changed my opinion of her."
I have learned that people who are hurting hurt others. But that is no excuse. What you put out into the world, comes back to you. Good or bad.
Yes, Mama always preached, "Pretty is as pretty does." She said something else, too, that is even truer: "What goes around, comes around."
Be mean, if you want. But it's comin' back to ya.Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Sign up for her newsletter.