Actors in a Play
To pick up where my friend left off in our discussion about integrity, I want to bring forth something interrelated. It involves the various roles we have to step into throughout our lives. We believe this is important because how we play our roles determines how those close to us will think about us long after we are gone. Does this sound grim to you? Only if you hold a negative opinion of your own mortality.
The Stoic View on Roles
If you have been reading our articles up to now, you probably know that the Stoics are not emotionally repressive and boring individuals, but dynamic human beings who attempt to utilize reason in their daily lives. This extends to how we could fit into society because the Stoics were not like the Epicureans, a rival philosophical school that encouraged distance from politics and society due to the psychological pain these topics cause. I could talk all day about these historical curiosities, but I have subjected myself to the role of a blogger not a scholar; I only write these articles to help illuminate how this ancient philosophy could help us live better lives. My scholarly desires will have to wait. Whether you like it or not, we all have multiple roles to play, for example, I have to play the role of a brother, an uncle, a son, a clerk, a friend, etc. The Stoics came from all walks of life, Epictetus being a former slave turned mentor had this to say about roles:
“We are like actors in a play. The divine will has assigned us our roles in life without consulting us. Some of us will act in a short drama, others in a long one. We might be assigned the part of a poor person, a cripple, a distinguished celebrity or public leader, or an ordinary citizen.”
A Day in the Life of a Courtesy Clerk
Let’s take my job as a courtesy clerk as an example of a role. I have to greet customers with a smile and ask how their day is going; this is essentially small talk so topics like politics, sex and religion are forbidden to bring up. And if you have to ask why, then I’m going to assume you haven’t lived in polite society for that long. Jokes aside, the manual on what a courtesy clerk has to be is that they are the diplomats of the grocery store because courtesy clerks are often the first face a customer sees and the last person they interact with; this extends to helping customers carry their groceries to their vehicles. The ultimate goal is to leave a lasting impression on the customer so that they return to see our warm personalities. The reality is that we are all human and stress and personal issues sometimes interfere with the execution of that role. Like I mentioned in a previous article, I had to deal with social anxiety and depression, once I got a handle on these issues my next question to myself was, how can I execute my role?
Courtesy Clerk Service
Recently, I had received a compliment from a customer for going out of my way to provide her with helpful information and options. This person has GI issues and, according to the advice of her doctor, she could only eat gluten-free foods. She was searching for a specific brand that my store used to carry and I discovered that it was no longer sold; I could see the disappointment on her face and proceeded to ask my boss if there were any options we could give her. He told me and I relayed the information to her and then I apologized on behalf of the district and told her that we are thankful for her continued loyalty. This is an example on how to be amiable and courteous. I could have told her, “oh well, we can’t do anything,” or simply asked another colleague to help her so I wouldn’t have to deal with her, but that would have been a decision made by my anxious self; I didn’t want to feed that emotion.
The Inevitability of Playing a Role
This is only one example of how playing a role is inevitable when you become aware of what people are struggling with and how you fit into the larger world. And there are moments when life calls on us to step out of a role briefly. When I assist some customers to their vehicles, they start to tell me very personal details about their lives, including grieving and divorce; in these moments I have felt uncomfortable because it is not my place to dispense advice, but when they are going through something that I have personally gone through myself, for example grief, I briefly step out of my worker bee role and offer a little of my experience with the matter. Often times, the person feels better and this actually causes them to come back to the store, glad that there are empathetic workers. I’m not a grief counselor nor am I a Machiavellian, but I look at it as fulfilling two roles, a courtesy clerk and a human being. And to leave one more quote from Epictetus, he had this to say:
“Although we can’t control which roles are assigned us, it must be our business to act our given role as best as we possibly can and to refrain from complaining about it. Wherever you find yourself and in whatever circumstances, give an impeccable performance.”
There are so many other examples we could give about playing our roles. It is everywhere from roles in the military to roles in political positions (we won’t do president bashing here, regardless of our personal opinions). Roles are definitely related to the Stoic theme of fate, integrity and facing our mortality because if you can’t play a role decently, you either have to take a hard look at your own priorities or reconsider what is actually in your ability to play. Until next time!