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“I DON’T NEED TO SEE YOUR WATERMELON”

For certain, we can all agree that times are tough. Budget cuts, layoffs and increased workloads due to the recent economic downturn has no doubt affected us all in one way or another; particularly from a moral standpoint. As an HR professional I’ve been receiving dozens of newsletters and sales brochures on ways to improve moral among our workforce during these tumultuous times. But very recently I was hit with a quirky dose of human reality while visiting a local grocery store. As I was standing in the ‘quick check-out’ line with my 10 items or less, I was killing time by calculating what the total cost of my purchase would be and even kicked it up a notch by trying to factor in the tax as well. (smirk if you want but it’s an easy way to kill time without having to make eye contact with anybody). I was next in line and there were at least 5 people behind me who were also staring off into space as they anxiously awaited their turn to make their way to wherever they were going. The stoic faces and blank stares were no doubt a normal site for the cashier who, herself, was making her way through the day with as little eye contact and conversation as possible. Upon reaching the checkout stand, the cashier fired off the requisite “Hello, how are you?” and my reply “fine, how are you?” was as much a reflex response as “God bless you” when somebody sneezes. We didn’t make eye contact and barely even acknowledged each other as we went through the motions of scanning items and swiping debit cards. It was about the time I was punching in my PIN number that I caught the woman behind me out of the corner of my eye. She apparently was lifting a watermelon from her cart to place it on the mini-conveyor belt so that it, and exactly 9 other items, would roll up to the cashier by the time I would grab my bag and make my way out of the check-out procession line. But as she did this, she was interrupted by the cashier who politely said “Oh, I don’t need to see your watermelon, ma’am”. The woman behind me gently returned the watermelon to her cart without a response and everyone went back to the blank stares and stoic faces without even batting an eye. It was at that point that something strange happened. I began to chuckle a bit and the urge to laugh grew more and more until I had to literally bite my lip not to bust out in guffaw. The cashier noticed my struggle to maintain my laughter and seemed to skip a beat as she made eye contact with me, for the first time I might add. It was at this point that I felt compelled to tell her, “I’m sorry, it’s just not something you hear everyday”. “What isn’t?”, she asked with a very confused look on her face. “I don’t need to see your watermelon”, I replied with a chuckle. “It’s just not something I’ve ever heard someone say and probably will never hear it again”, I added, now laughing at a pretty steady pace. The cashier’s brain seemed to reboot for a quick moment as she was now taken completely out of her routine. She paused for a moment while glancing at the woman behind me, then, almost reluctantly, began to chuckle. As she did, the woman behind me, (with the watermelon), began to smile and the smile turned to laughter. It was about this point that the people behind Watermelon Woman began to laugh as well. Before long, everyone in our line was laughing and the laughter began to spread to the lines to the left and right of us from the people who apparently overheard the conversation. Within several seconds, most of the front of the store was laughing and making one-liner jokes about the statement and mild chuckles turned to outright and out loud laughter. All the beeping stopped as cashiers took a break from their duty to laugh and joke about this seemingly innocuous event. Though this entire scenario took a total of about 5 minutes, it was time well spent. The human will is resilient, and the human spirit is strong. Employee moral is not something that can be issued to them in a semi-transparent company-planned event. Nor is it an item to be purchased, energized or persuaded. Moral comes from our own positive energy that we each will decide to embrace or repress. The saying goes, laughter goes a long way. For me, and the employee at the grocery store, it went just as far as was necessary for that day. Blank stares were traded for friendly smiles. Rehearsed greetings were traded for playful banter. We all took a couple minutes out of our day to end on a high note and dispel the misconception that moral is dead. Take the time to remind yourself, and others, that there’s laughter anywhere you choose to find it. Even if it is securely nested in the shopping cart of the stranger standing in line behind you. Make it a great day!

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