The Little Things, They Matter

fight for 15

I suck at getting out of bed. Don’t get me wrong. I got my son to school on time every day this past year. I make it to work on time. But I have mastered the art of hitting snooze until there isn’t time for one wasted motion once my feet hit the floor.

So I’m not sure what possessed me to rise before 6:30am on the 2nd day of my kids’ summer break. But when I found my glasses and picked up my phone, there was already a text waiting from my wife, “Can you call me as soon as you get up? I need help”.

She was spending the week at our church, as a leader of a camp centered on service projects in our community for kids of all ages. Turns out that they were in need of some materials for their morning projects and were short on adult help that was available to acquire it. “Dollar General opens at 8. Can you be there when they open, and get the stuff to us as quickly as possible?”

They opened at 7:30, so I was inside by 7:50. There was a loud pop at 7:51, and half the lights went off, along with their coolers. Their computers system and register was out too. “I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to check you out.”  They were nice. I understand the difficulties of conducting business without computers or wi-fi. But I didn’t wait around to see if their power was restored.

I drove a short distance to a True Value store. All their lights were out, so I figured they didn’t open until 8 (late for a hardware store, I know). I was parked close to the entrance, so I noticed that the lights were still out when 8am rolled around. But there was an employee standing at the door so I got out of my truck and approached. He greeted me outside the door with a smile. “We don’t have power. But we can take care of you if you’re paying cash.” I quickly counted out my slim collection of $1’s and $5’s and figured I just might have enough to get what I needed. So I entered.

Armed with a flashlight, he asked me what I needed, and led me to the right aisle to help gather painting supplies. He helped me find exactly what I needed (and could afford for my small wad of bills), and then led me to the cash register where I was “checked out” with pencil, paper, and a cell phone for a calculator.

No big deal, right? Wrong.

Those little things matter. The doses of extra effort. Going beyond what is required or expected. Not as a matter of earning and keeping customers. Not as a matter of carrying out tasks that will bring immediate praise or monetary reward. Just choosing to do the right thing and do it the right way.

At the end of the day, the way we go about our jobs says a lot about the kind of people we are.

At the beginning of the days and all throughout, we all have at least a touch of a school kid’s “snow day mentality”. We quietly celebrate any chance to do less work, while sometimes choosing to ignore the reality that it takes a conscious effort to consistently rise above doing only what is required.

Pursuit of excellence and setting a higher standard for yourself don’t guarantee immediate rewards. But they will make you sleep better at night. And I think those people that sleep better at night find their rewards one way or another over time (but maybe not overnight).

That gentleman that led me through True Value with a flashlight didn’t earn my business for his employer. I shop there regularly anyway. He earned something more valuable: respect. I know this man isn’t a shortcut taker. He probably didn’t greet me at the door because he was instructed to or because it put more money in his pocket. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

I’m not going to venture too far off track with this, but I do hope to make something clear about all this talk of “Fight For $15”. To me, the notion of paying a worker without regard to the value of their work or their level of performance is just a level of silly that shouldn’t need explanation. But I at least hope that those who find themselves in support of these types of measures realize something: what you’re doing to workers like the man I encountered at True Value.

Believe it or not, this country is full of people who have consistently showed up at jobs, day after day and year after year. They may not be the highest paying of jobs, but they have put food on the table for people who have just been showing up and doing the right thing since the days of $3.35 minimum wage and earlier. Their employers couldn’t pay them as much as they wanted, but they’ve paid them what they could. These people have moved up in pay, not because the government dictated wages, but because of job performance, their contributions to company performance, and years of service. And they’ve earned a heckuva lot of respect over time.

These workers who earn around $10-$18/hr, along with consumers, they are the ones who will be paying for excessive minimum wage hikes (not the evil billionaires). And when I hear people talking about a living wage and a “fight for $15”, I know what it really means. That we are offering protections and guarantees to those who have yet to work their first day and those who have performed horribly at every job they’ve held, putting them on the same level of those who have excelled. That $14/hr worker? They’re getting bumped to $15 and then NEVER getting another raise. And the inexperienced become unemployable.

There are those whose whole existence is a snow day. And there are those who consistently push past the urge to do less, and instead do the little things and do things the right way. To place these two groups at equal pay levels would be disastrous.

Little things do matter. And if we invite enough people to do less, many many people won’t turn down that offer. The path of least resistance can be a path to destruction, so be careful before you choose it. The path of truth may be full of things we’d rather not hear. But we can’t avoid it.

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