A loved one recently had to face a big challenge – breast cancer – and the accompanying fear, stress, questions, procedures, paperwork, and a thousand little details that were not part of her daily routine.

As she described to me how someone had responded in a snippy way to a question she had asked, she said, “What I really wanted to say was ‘You just need to come across that counter, lady, and see what it feels like over here.'”

The question had to do with instructions she was given for pre-surgery preparation – something she had never experienced before. The answer was “Now, remember, I already told you. …”

It’s possible that she had already been told, in a prior conversation or in the abundant paperwork she had been given, but wouldn’t it have been so much nicer and compassionate for the person to have simply answered the question in a calm and kind voice?

What if that person had replied with some amount of empathy, something like, “I know we’ve given you a lot of information in a short time. Here’s what you’ll need to do. …”

Her story reminded me of the times I’ve had to deal with something new for the first time. Though nowhere nearly as scary as cancer, my first day of high school caused me some anxiety. I had never had to change classes before. How could I possibly navigate six buildings when I didn’t know where to go?

Thankfully, older students were stationed around the hallways to help frustrated freshmen. They had been on the other side of the “counter” and understood our angst.

Her story also reminded me of those times when we approach any kind of counter or desk with which we are not familiar, to try to complete a task with which we are not familiar. Even ordering food from a new lunch restaurant can be intimidating if it’s set up differently from the norm.

Whether it’s the DMV, the airport, the library, the tax office, the pharmacy, or any other kind of service, wouldn’t it be nice if we all treated our customers as if we know they aren’t familiar with our practices?

The person behind the counter or desk, however, does that job every day and should be familiar with the process of accomplishing whatever it is we need or want to do. Isn’t the interaction so much more pleasant for all when that worker assists in an understanding and helpful manner?

I am reminded that my colleagues and I also work behind a “counter” of sorts. Most people who stop by our newspaper office, or call, or write letters have never worked in such an office before. Most don’t understand deadlines, or proper format for a press release, or how to place a classified ad.

Attitude can make all the difference in whether the experience is a good one or a nightmare.

Of course, the attitude component works both ways. Consumers must also mind their manners when asking questions and seeking assistance.

Let’s all try, in our individual comfort zones, to recognize what the process might be like for the other person. Let’s remember, too, that vacation season has started and many people from lots of places will visit our world. Let’s remember they are our guests and our customers, and let’s treat them as such.

Let’s all “come across the counter” and just be kind to one another.