I knew something was up when the store public address system blasted a message something like this: “Good morning shoppers. We are experiencing difficulties with our electronic systems. Most registers at our checkout stations are temporarily out of order. We appreciate your patience.”
I was in Walmart. It was mid-morning on a Saturday and the store was humming with folks eager to fill their shopping lists and get on with their day.
The reactions on the aisles were immediate. Some were silent, a raised eyebrow or a whisper to one’s shopping companion. Others were sarcastically humorous “Just what I needed this morning.” Only a few were muttering nasty phrases that should not be repeated.
I finally found everything my wife, Lynn, had asked me to pick up and I headed for the self-checkout area. Soon, the line of shoppers behind me was so long it snaked across the main store entrance aisle and into the fruits and vegetables department. Shoppers who decided to stand in lines for the two or three working registers were backed up across a wide aisle and into the racks of women’s and girl’s clothing where they were almost totally hidden.
I was able to leave in about 45 minutes, taking with me an observation I found stunning. Almost no one complained about the delay they were experiencing. In fact, there were lots of amiable conversations among strangers.
In a word, dozens of shoppers, anxious to fill their orders and leave the store, were PATIENT.
As I have thought about that morning, I have hoped that it might have been a small sign, a tiny case study, demonstrating that we Americans have the capacity to be patient when things go wrong.
As individual citizens, and as communities in a free and democratic society, we are certain to face enormous challenges in the days and weeks ahead—some we can predict, most we cannot. Our patience will be sorely tested. We will need to dig deep to find it because, with patience, we can gain that precious moment or two of time that will allow us to assess those challenges and overcome them with thoughtful and clear-headed responses.
Ross Jones is a former vice president and secretary emeritus of The Johns Hopkins University. He joined the University in 1961 as assistant to President Milton S. Eisenhower. A 1953 Johns Hopkins graduate, he later earned a Master’s Degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.