A Jewish ethicist, Rabbi Elya Lopian, once commented that the true measurement of a person's middot, or character traits, is how he or she treats those in his or her own home. He observed that often people are much nicer to strangers than to loved ones in their own family. I so relate, because I am generally viewed as a nice person to strangers.
For me, a casual interaction with someone in a store isn't a big deal. It's a once or twice relationship. It's not directly ongoing, nor is there much to be gained from investing time or effort into the person at the cash register. In your family, being nice is a constant challenge. That's why it's more difficult to keep your cool, speak pleasantly, be appreciative and display a level of respect at home.
This is something -- especially in dealing with my kids -- that I am constantly working on. It's a job in the real sense, because effort is involved. There are times that I win and there are times that I slip and lose it. It's less frequent than it was, say, two years ago, but it happens.
Last night, I placed an order for some take out. I went, picked up my order, and came home. When I started unloading the purchased items, I realized that I was missing something. I quickly called the establishment and asked if the item I was "missing" was meant to be included with my order. It was. So I asked if I could come back and pick up the item and, of course, they said yes.
I showed up, explained the situation and they apologized profusely. I told them that it really wasn't a big deal and that I was sure they were just busy when they put the order together.
Then, on my way back, I wondered why I didn't adapt this easygoing attitude at home. Here I was telling them "no big deal," when I had paid for an item and didn't receive it. Yet, I find myself frustrated and impatient when I ask one of my kids to pick up their dirty clothes and they choose not to. It's not like I paid them to actually clean up their clothes; there was no implied exchange for services rendered. There is, however, a relationship built on trust, love, respect and appreciation. That's really the kicker.
When working with any "volunteers" it's imperative to appreciate what they do. I realized that my strategy of working on patience and keeping my cool only really affects how I perceive things, or the input -- not the output.
So, when I came home, I went straight into my son's room and told him that I really appreciate all the effort he puts into studying, and that I understand that after a full day of school he might be too tired to care about the state of his room. I also told him that if he wants help picking up clothes, I'd be happy to assist him.
If I can be nice and understanding to the person behind the counter, then I should be even more so to my own family. Well, at least, that's the plan.