Most people have a love/hate relationship with social media. I do not. I like social media. I like that it keeps me connected with people I can’t see a lot of. I like that it gives you a platform to show me what you’re up to. I like your pet pictures, your vacation pictures, and your family pictures. I like your funny memes and videos. I hate your un-fact-checked posts, but I like that “Unfollow” button.

I especially love it when you find a gem of wisdom buried in someone’s comment section. A friend of mine posted that she was getting some unnecessarily angry comments on a post she made, and Susanna Holstein (you know her best as Granny Sue, beloved teller of tales in the JCO and obviously an Internet sage) replied with this:

“I learned that angry people aren’t necessarily angry at me, they just came in with a load on their shoulders and there I was.”

Y’all, if that doesn’t perfectly sum up what the last four months have been like for everyone who works with the public, I don’t know what does.

People are rarely really “angry.” They are frustrated, they are scared, confused, impatient, annoyed. But you don’t usually have time to process complicated feelings like that; it’s just easier to say you’re angry and let that be a catch-all for everything you feel. In that same vein, it’s easier to be angry with someone who feels “faceless” as opposed to the people who really are scaring, confusing, or annoying you. I mean, if you go into Kroger’s already annoyed because you have to wear a mask, then the bag boy who accidentally squishes your loaf of bread is a much more convenient target than the Governor.

It’s horribly easy to transfer your “anger” at one thing in your life onto a totally innocent person, especially an innocent person you see as “serving you.” After all, you’re paying them, so shouldn’t you be right (“The customer is always right” has to be the most regrettable phrase anyone ever uttered), and if it’s not right, shouldn’t you get to point it out? Well, of course, you should; if it’s not right, it’s not right, and anyone who takes the least bit of pride in their job will want to keep working on the issue till it’s fixed.

But the problem comes when you need to be “right,” to be in control of a situation, especially right now when everyone feels so out of control, turns into real misplaced anger. Should the bag boy have squished your bread? No; that’s Level One Bagging, and he needs a refresher course. But is it any easy fix that can be done without you having a meltdown? You bet; ask him to get you a new loaf. Does he also deserve to hear a five-minute lecture from you that starts out about bagging and ends up with you screaming, “And this whole thing is a hoax brought on by the vaccine industry!” No, he does not. He squished your bread; he didn’t bring the COVID with him over the Pacific Ocean.

It is very easy to become a person who takes out their anger on the world on the innocent people that cross out paths. You do it once, it feels good, and you find yourself doing it again and again because the people you’re getting angry with so often can’t do anything about it. They can’t stop you from getting groceries, or gas, or tools, or what have you, and if the business is small enough, they can’t afford to alienate you. On some level, you know that, and that makes getting angry at them even easier. Because at that moment, you have the control and the power that you haven’t had in months, and may not have in any other part of your life

The people who serve you know that. But you know what: knowing that someone takes their anger out on you because it’s the only place they can do doesn’t, as Granny Sue so eloquently stated, makes it hurt any less. Because the people that serve us, in stores, at drive-thrus, in hospitals, and professional offices, at every kind of counter and front desk in the world, try desperately to brush those encounters off. Service people are taught in trial by fire not to take those encounters personally, to do their job as best they can, and just know that you can’t please everyone.

But the hurt is still there. It’s not easy to go back to doing what you’re doing when someone has just ripped you a new one in front of every co-worker and customer in a five-hundred-foot radius. And it’s not just the in-person hurts: the stings from social media are almost more painful because people feel even more emboldened to be angry when they don’t have to look into anyone’s face to do it. People will say things to you on the internet that they would never print out and read to your face; angry, hurtful things, mean things, that will stay with you for as long as the Internet exists.

So as we enter another month of COVID and you seem to habitually find yourself in a situation with your anger rising, please ask yourself what you’re really angry about squished bread or the uncertainty of the world we’re living in? Because the bag boy isn’t responsible for the latter; he can only fix your bread situation, and no customer is right by demanding he does both. Ask yourself who and what you’re really angry with, and you better figure it out and how to deal with it in a constructive way, and fast.

Because just like a clever COVID meme on social media, nothing makes the rounds faster among service people than which customers have a reputation for being “mean.” And unlike the COVID, there is no treatment to remove the red “M” from your chest once you’ve been branded.