Uncommon Decency

Listen to me read “Uncommon Decency”.

A Macy’s employee led a customer to safety and went back to help others during the mass shooting in Clackamas Town Center yesterday. The Macy’s employee’s deed has been rightly hailed as a heroic act. It was an act of uncommon decency.

We are all familiar with acts of common decency at stores: sales clerks ask us “How’s it going?” as they ring up our purchases and wish us “Merry Christmas” to which we respond in kind as we depart.

Sometimes sales clerks and customers don’t talk to one another. In such situations, all they seem to be concerned about are the transactions, not the interaction—an all too common indecency on the part of both parties. I must confess that I’ve been guilty at times of using sales clerks to check me out so I could get out with my purchases ASAP. Salespeople sometimes give the impression of using customers in checkout aisles to get their paychecks (saying such things to their fellow clerks as “I can’t wait for closing time,” not even acknowledging their customers as they process the sales). Unfortunately, these forms of transaction are all too common indecencies.

What is so uncommon about the decency of Macy’s employee Allan Fonseca who helped customer Jocelyn Lay and then went back to see if others needed help is that he simply thought he should do what he did. He knew how to get to safety and so he wanted to get as many people to safety rather than save himself or help only one. He didn’t do it for a Christmas bonus or a benefit associated with helping people in crisis situations. He simply did it because he believed it to be the right thing to do, no matter the cost.

You can’t put a price tag on such an action. It gives me hope that for all the commodification of human identity in our market-driven society we can move beyond such reductions. We can move beyond our market value as customers and sales clerks bound up with mere transactions and forms of polite nicety interaction to make real life and death connections. Priceless.

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