The Forgotten Principle

This Sunday, we’ll mark ten years since 9/11. Ten years since 2,977 innocent souls, including 343 firefighters and 60 police officers, lost their lives in a breathtaking terrorist attack that we still haven’t recovered from. 13 more later succumbed to their injuries, bringing the total death toll to 2,998 – a number that should be raised as more first responders die of various cancers they’ve developed after breathing the toxic ash at Ground Zero. Ten years since even the hardest of us openly wept at the incredible loss of life. Ten years since 19 animals used their ultimate faith in jihad to prove that America is not untouchable.

In the weeks following the attacks, people rallied to prove we were better than the terrorists. We gave blood, donated water and food, posted pictures of those who were unaccounted for, and mourned for every set of remains carried out of the burning pit draped with Old Glory. Incredibly, we were nicer. We were nicer to our families and friends, nicer to the people who serve us, even nicer to other people on the road.

How quickly we forget.

About six months after the attacks – we’d already invaded Afghanistan by that time – I read a blog post that broke my heart. An Army wife, pregnant, crying child in tow, was writing about an unbelievable experience at a grocery store. Her husband was among those deployed to Afghanistan. She badly needed a few items, so she gathered what she needed quickly and ran to the express lane. During checkout she discovered she was one item over the limit. According to the post, the people behind her immediately lost their patience and began complaining loudly. The cashier offered no solution, only telling her she needed to go to another lane. At the end of her rope, the poor woman ran from the store, leaving her groceries unchecked. She wondered how we could have all gone to caring about our fellow man right after 9/11 to scolding a woman in a grocery store over something as simple as an item limit.

It never ceases to amaze me the way people will treat others sometimes. Those who consider themselves middle- or even upper-class can be outrageously mean. I cannot say who I work for, but in my main job I investigate fraud for a major financial institution. I talk to people all day long. Occasionally, a customer encounters difficulty using their account because of our attempts to stop fraud before it starts, and I’d say at least 75% of the time they’re typically civil. Today, however, I had people screaming epithets, insults and profanities at me over being stopped.

I left work feeling completely defeated. I didn’t do anything wrong, but people occasionally hear what they want to hear (as opposed to what’s actually being said), misinterpret what’s being said, and demand the impossible. When that happens and someone finds out that they’re not going to get what they want, they will revert to pitching a fit like a two-year-old (one with a far more extensive vocabulary). Today I was called names that I wouldn’t call another person myself even if I were enraged. They don’t understand that I can’t tell them why we might be suspicious of a charge being made; if we give that information out, the bad guys will use it to improve on how they get away with fraud. Yes, we will protect ourselves – your interest rates and annual fees are all part of the fraud prevention system, and the more the financial industry loses, the higher your rates will go. Fraud drives up the cost of all goods and services. So screaming that you’ve been inconvenienced and it’s not fair is actually self-defeating because that very system protects you in ways you will never understand.

As we come up to the ten-year anniversary of the defining moment of my generation, I hear these people losing their cool over things that aren’t worth it and mistreating me and my colleagues and I wonder what must go through their minds. I also wonder if they’d still behave that way if they knew who they were talking to.

If you knew the young woman you were talking to was a military widow, would you still call her a bitch?

If you knew that the young man you were talking to had a titanium leg in place of the one he lost while serving in the Marines in Iraq, would you still tell him to go to hell?

If you knew that the older gentleman you were talking to was a WWII veteran who’d been awarded the Navy Cross and two purple hearts, would you still tell him he was incompetent?

If you knew that the young woman you were talking to had lost an eye to a roadside bomb in Iraq, would you still call her a f—ing c–t?

If you knew that the young man you were talking to was in the US Army Reserves and had just come back to work after his third tour of duty in the Big Sandbox and he came home this time with shrapnel in his hip, would you still call him a pu–y and a dumb MF’er? Is a single moment of inconvenience and perceived embarrassment really worth abusing a man who fought so hard for you?

I’m not making any of that up. It makes my adrenaline surge and my hands shake when someone talks to me that way because when a person gets that way with me in my other job, it means they’re about to get violent; it’s a response that I can’t turn off. When I hear the people I know and deeply respect being abused by people who are angry about not getting their way, knowing what those friends have survived, it makes me absolutely furious.

This year, don’t just volunteer. Think long and hard about the way you treat your fellow man. Convenience is not a right – it is something that countless men and women have fought to give America the ability to provide. Don’t let respect become the forgotten principle. If you can’t imagine someone else talking to you that way, don’t do it to someone else – regardless of how inconvenient the situation is.