This I Believe

Kathleen - Dayton, Ohio
Entered on September 19, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

In this modern age filled with stressful high-powered jobs, Wall Street bankers who spend more on Starbucks then I make in a year, and detached families who have multiple nannies plus a full-time cook, the sheer number of wealthy people dependent on counselors and clinical psychologists is not surprising. Recently, however, I have noticed that the affluent members of society are not the only ones privileged enough to seek guidance and counseling from an outside source. Essentially, I have adopted a role similar to these professional advice-givers (at a much lower fee to my chagrin) through my own small town, minimum wage job. I am a grocery cashier. During many dull episodes of the mindless mechanical scanning of overpriced consumer goods, I often engage in many meaningful, enlightening conversations with the regular shoppers at the supermarket. In this sense, grocery cashiers are indeed the poor man’s counselor, and from these insightful conversations I have come to believe that everyone’s story matters. I believe that the poor have a right to share their experiences and I have a responsibility to listen.

In no way does my dinky convenience store attract wealthy customers; instead, it is a hotbed for juvenile delinquents and struggling parents who clutch food stamp cards with a desperate almost ferocious dependency. One shopper, a struggling single mom discussed her job at a movie theatre where she worked, without sitting, over 8 hours every day at minimum wage. I use my meager paycheck to buy a new outfit or purchase a handbag essential to my accessory collection, but this woman had to stretch her scanty income to feed herself, her children, and cover her rent. The fact that her familial obligations were so extensive and the countless hours she put in at work were extremely exhausting opened my eyes to the plight of the poor. She lamented the fact that she did not have time to properly spend with her kids, and she worried over her son’s recent misbehavior at school. I realized from her troubling hopelessness that poor people, in fact, work harder than most of us, and deal with more stress than even that bustling Wall Street banker (and they do so without luxuries like a hot cup of four dollar coffee). My advice to her was in no way medically sanctioned, and I could not present her any educated monetary instruction, but I could offer her concerned condolences and a friendly smile that proved I cared about her enough to listen.

The poor of our society should not be stereotyped into disgruntled silence. They have stories to tell and pressing issues to address, and I have a duty to offer my sympathy and my advice. I believe that the poor can break down the binding prejudices against them by sharing their stories and voicing their concerns, and I believe that I can help, even if only on the tiniest level, by listening.