Standing in Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, in the longest security line ever, wasn’t exactly the place I thought I’d get sobering reminders about life.

I finally discovered the reason for the delay: security was being very thorough, we were told, and therefore the line was taking longer than usual (1.5 hours) and if I knew anyone looking for a job, could I please send them over because the park was severely understaffed. When we got to the front of the line we understood. Our sandwiches were flagged and we were told to store them outside the park in a locker.

Now, I’m a Jewish mother: I had called ahead to make sure my progeny would be well-fed on this arduous journey and had obtained permission to bring in the contraband food due to our religious kosher restrictions. But alas the supervisor was summoned and she upheld the very strict no-food policy even if we could not purchase most of the food in the park. When I politely asked why, I was told that the supervisor did not know why, and that maybe I should write a letter of complaint to corporate, because they’d probably listen to me more than they’d listen to her.

Okay. We checked our stuff and bought ice cream for lunch.

But something else went down that day on the security line at Six Flags that was disturbing. Because the line was so long and disorganized, and because there were a lot of school groups there that particular day, and because it was very hot, people were getting antsy. Kids starting jumping the line. Adults got angry at them. Cursing and loud fighting ensued, with threats. And there I was with three daughters and a niece, feeling unsafe and uncomfortable, and security didn’t even blink. When they finally came out, they yelled at all the wrong people.

I like to give the benefit of the doubt so I’m going to say they were indeed understaffed and just doing their best. That line-jumping happens every day and it couldn’t be managed. And really, who feels like dealing with hundreds of hot unruly teens in a long sweaty line? (Hint: not me.)

Still, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated at the blind eye turned to rude and unfair behavior on the one hand, and the very thorough security checks on the other. And when I feel frustrated I try to do something to make the world a little better.

So I turned to the teens behind me in line. The ones whose friends tried to wheedle them into cutting the line but who felt guilty and didn’t and waited longer. And I said, “Guys, I want to commend you. I saw your friends cutting, and you didn’t. I know it was tempting and I just want to thank you guys for setting a good example. Have fun today.” They blushed and smiled and said thanks and I’ll probably never see them again.

See, words matter. I can’t fix the park and I can’t cure bad behavior. But you can bet I’m going to do everything I can to shine a light where possible. If those kids are going to remember our conversation, I will have brought a little more security into the world, my way. I can’t change the world but I can change myself. My own reactions. My immediate space. Noticing the good is at least as powerful as complaining about the bad. And it feels so much better too.

We emerged from that line grateful, our self-respect intact, and our faith in humanity somewhat restored. Turns out ice cream for lunch was the perfect celebration.