Original Article, 2018
When does acting become lying? “Smile, Smile, SMILE!!!” and exuding “over-the-top” enthusiasm and friendliness are listed as employee expectations for my hospital barista job. I get it. Customers don’t want a grump behind the counter. But the core of customer service is making them feel valued, genuinely engaged, and seen as people, not pocketbooks. You can’t speak to hearts through a plastic smile and obviously rehearsed spiel, though. This world craves an authenticity it sorely lacks. But where is the line between living honestly and performing for others’ benefit?
In the midst of a stressful day when equipment malfunctions, supplies run out, and a line of surly, impatient customers winds down and around the hallway, should I act like somebody just brought me a basket full of puppies? Some of those people queued up have children in the E.R. Some are paramedics who spent all their energy desperately trying to revive an airlift patient who didn’t make it. Some are waiting for loved ones to come out of surgery, chemotherapy, and dialysis. They don’t want a sour-faced grouch getting their coffee, but most don’t want an overly chipper, hyper-caffeinated cheerleader type either. When I ask how people are doing, I hope for genuine answers so I can validate their experience and encourage them. But what do I say when they ask me? Should I fudge the truth when those no-good, awful, rotten days roll around?
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis talks about “leading with the body” in order to train the heart to follow. His idea is that if you act like you love others despite its not coming naturally to you, then you’ll eventually come to genuinely love them if you stick with the program long enough. It’s the old fake-it-‘til-you-make it concept. God said something similar to Joshua as he stepped in to fill Moses’ sandals and lead the Israelites in claiming the Promised Land.
God’s directive for Joshua was, “be strong and courageous” – an instruction he repeats four times in chapter one alone. If Joshua needed to hear it recurrently, then obviously he wasn’t feeling particularly strong or courageous. So did moving forward despite his nerves make him dishonest? I guess not.
I think also of Jesus who, though he had limitless divine power at his fingertips, kept it largely under wraps for our benefit. On plenty of occasions he got frustrated, exhausted, and stressed, but always put those feelings aside to serve others. And Jesus certainly wasn’t a liar.
I still feel conflicted about performing against the truth of my experience. I’ve yet to master that balance between authenticity and consciously projecting positivity when I’m feeling anything but positive. But I do know that Jesus, and the faithful like Joshua who preceded him, set an example of putting others before self. So, whatever that looks like moment to moment, squawking customers and faulty brewers included, that’s what I’ll try to do.