Yesterday afternoon we went to pick up our click-and-collect order from our local supermarket. We parked and soon enough a young woman assistant came with our trolley of groceries. She stood by as we hurriedly loaded the goods into the car boot. We came to the last item – two small bunches of daffodils. Helen said to the young woman: ‘Oh, I don’t think these are ours. I didn’t order them’. To which she said: ‘Yes they are yours – they’re a gift’.
Then we saw the small label attached which told us that this was a gift from ‘the picking team’ – presumably the staff who go around the shop picking out the items on your online order.
I had several quick reactions. The first was that this was a clever marketing ploy. They knew that this sort of gesture would please their particular clientele. Was it really the picking team? The label was hand-written. A spontaneous response from a small group of backroom workers? Surely they could not afford it? Maybe it was an initiative just from this branch whose manager must be an imaginative type? Maybe it was a national policy to boost sales in a competitive market? Maybe the supermarket had made a deal with the growers of the flowers during lockdown? It helped to keep them in business and cost the grocery giant very little. Maybe it was their way of saying sorry to holders of their loyalty cards like us whose interests were forgotten at the beginning of the pandemic when we were unable to book a delivery?
But then the other side of my brain kicked in. Just be happy! Just receive the flowers. Just see their yellow brightness on a grim afternoon. Somewhere along the retail line someone had come up with the imaginative and generous idea of adding a small bunch of flowers to a regular business transaction. Just be grateful.
All of this tangle of thinking took a very short time but it highlights two sides of human nature which are so frequently at odds with each other. My immediate reaction was that this gift was just clever marketing. It was a cynical reaction. We all need a ration of cynicism to prevent us from being taken in by every wild and extravagant claim in the market-place. But cynicism is a double-edged instrument. The word ‘cynicism’ probably comes from a root meaning ‘dog-like…dog, canine, cynic’. That is neither flattering nor attractive. Churlish, unfeeling, less than human.
The reaction which came soon after was a simple feeling of gratitude. Perhaps it was born of gullibility or naivety. Maybe it was a healthy moment when a little joy was given admission to my mind. A joy which is too often stifled. An unguarded, unedited moment. Child-like. ‘Unless you become as a little child you shall not enter…’
It is very easy to sink into or even fall into cynicism. No doubt we all do it regularly every day. Given the swirling currents of opinion around us, especially at the moment, we do need our sceptical faculties more than ever. But when cynicism becomes our only reflex response, when it strays into areas where it has no right then to be we are in danger of becoming so defended that we miss the natural therapy of simple delights. And we need as many of those as we can get at the moment.