I was here

Communication: Do you know The Person or The Position?

Fridays are supposed to be easy, light days at work, aren’t they?  We are down to the last eight hours of the work-week until we can start the weekend!

So, last Friday morning I log into my computer, check my email and read a message for which I was not prepared.

One of the cafe workers had died.

The shock I felt was unexpected because I didn’t know her personally.  But most mornings I went downstairs for my coffee (and sometimes, a bagel), she was there. The message said she died in a car accident but gave no other details.  She was always professional and provided great customer service to everyone.  Now, here it was four days later, and she was gone.

A few months ago, there was an incident at work where someone was killed and as disturbing as that was, it was a different feeling for me because when they showed his picture on the news, I didn’t recognize him.  Of course that didn’t make hearing the news any less disturbing.   In fact the entire story was beyond upsetting, but it was not quite the same feeling of familiarity with him specifically.  He didn’t work at the gate that I came in daily.  Instead, he worked at the main gate to our building, so I didn’t see him daily like I saw the café worker.  I still felt badly that this man lost his life doing his job where I worked.

When you see service/support staff throughout your place of employment, you might possibly get to know them a little over a long time but it’s hard to really get to know any of them because they are at their post, working hard dealing with all of us as efficiently as possible, and you may only see them occasionally when you are on your break.  There really is no time for socializing for them.   So they sort of become fixtures throughout your day.  I honestly don’t mean that in a bad way but let me explain.

Our lives are like scenes in a movie.  As we have different interactions with different people throughout our day, these scenes make up our days, weeks, months, years and lives.  We have work scenes, home scenes, church scenes, grocery store scenes, post office scenes, etc.   We each have different characters in our specific scenes, like the cashier at the cafe, the security guard at work,  the deli worker at the grocery store, the postal worker at the post office.   These characters become fixtures since they are always there.  They become familiar as you see them each time you visit a place, however frequently you visit.  So when the normal scenes happen at your job daily, you expect to see those characters daily.   In your work scene, you may have a brief interaction like “Hello, how’s your day going?” or “How was your weekend?” and the scene just naturally keeps moving because we all have to get back to work.

When an incident like this happens and they simply aren’t there anymore, it’s almost like someone abruptly stopped the movie, rewound the film and completely cut the character out of the scene.  Yet, we are not the director.

So when I went down to the cafe and the cafe worker wasn’t there, it felt odd not to see her in that scene.   I had no personal connection with her but she was part of one of my work scenes of “a trip to the cafe for a coffee and a bagel”.  Now that I knew the reason she was and would no longer be there, it bothered me to know the reason was death for someone so young.

On my walk back to my desk I found myself thinking about the people who are in my life’s scenes just at work, and realized how I haven’t taken the time to get to know them. I also realized that a part of me feels it is not appropriate to try to socialize with people when they’re trying to do their job.  I am not a fan of small talk  when I am at work, so I try not to bother people when they’re working. But when someone whom you see daily dies suddenly, it makes you think….”Well damn, I didn’t even really take the time to get to know that person”.   All I knew about her was she was the cashier at the cafe.  I knew only the position.  I did not know the person.  I felt really badly about that fact.

Then I realized something.

I also don’t know the name of the current security guard at the gate that I do come through every day. I don’t know the cook’s name in the cafeteria who remembers that I like my spicy grilled chicken sandwich with provolone cheese before I even have to say what I want. I don’t know the name of the person who empties my trash daily and dusts my desk and cabinets weekly.   I don’t know the names of the people at the security office when I need a new lanyard for the 3000th time.  They all are just there doing their jobs and while I am not ignoring them,  I just don’t know anything about them.  I know the position, but I do not know the person.

I feel a need to make an effort to correct that.   Life is too short to not know the people in the scenes of your life.  You may not get to have a solid personal relationship with them, but at least get to know them as a person and not just a position.

My question to you:

Do you know the person or the position of all the people who are regulars in your life’s daily scenes?