Twenty-some years before the turn of this century, I was a teenager working a summer job. When I opened my first bank account, my mother typed a note on the back of the account card which said I had her permission to withdraw funds. Like my sister before me, I deposited my check each week, taking a little cash for fun. At the end of the summer, we’d withdraw $1000 to open a CD at the credit union, all for college savings.
The first year, at sixteen, the bank issued me the check no problem.
At the end of the next summer, my dad waited in the car while my sister and I went into the bank. At separate windows, my sister withdrew her $1000 and waited next to me. The teller looked at my withdrawal slip and bank book, looked at me, and took them to a man in a suit.
When she and the man came back, he glared down at me. “You can’t take money out. This is a custodial account.”
“You have a note from my mother saying that I can take money out. I get cash from my check every week.”
His voice rose, and he looked at me with disdain. “You are underage. Where is your father?”
“He’s in the car. But I shouldn’t need him to come in,” I said, my voice shrill.
“I’ll get Dad,” my sister said in a low voice.
We were still at a stalemate when Dad came in. Immediately the man’s manner changed. He was happy to issue the check. No problem at all.
I left humiliated and indignant. It was my earnings. Why shouldn’t I be able to take it anywhere I wanted?
“As soon as I’m eighteen, I’m moving my money to a new bank,” I told my mother.
And the next summer, I did. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I’d hoped. The man wasn’t there and the teller cheerfully closed my account.
Looking back now from about that man’s age, I can rationalize. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he was right about the rules and truly felt he couldn’t give me a check made out to me. But there’s no reason he couldn’t have showed me the same consideration he showed my father. The frustration I felt wouldn’t have changed but saying no with respect would have mitigated my humiliation.
Nowadays debit cards and ATMs give us instant access to our cash. Many of the young people I know would handle themselves better than I did at seventeen.
We’re all made up of our experiences. This was only one of the times I was treated poorly, balanced by far more times I was given respect. But all it takes to trigger my irritation and anger is for someone to dismiss my opinion, act as though my thoughts and rights don’t matter. I’ve lived long enough to control my outward behavior, but inside I’m still seventeen, railing against the unfairness in the world.
I imagine what it must be like to receive that kind of treatment more often, to be doubted and dismissed regularly by those with more power than you. If I react at my age and experience, imagine the way someone steeped in humiliation might act.
We talk often these days about being kind. We certainly need more kindness in the world. But I would add to that, be respectful. You can make your point, stand your ground and stand by your opinion, but do it with respect. And the world might be a calmer place.