I was in line at an all-too familiar spot, a fast-food place, and some customers began grumbling. “The service sure is slow around here,” one said at a volume level that carried beyond the counter.
Apparently at the end of her rope, a tired employee scurrying to fill the orders turned around, looked the customer right in the eye, and replied, “At least we showed up for work.”
I felt like cheering, but knowing the mood of America all too well, I figured it was best to keep quiet. These days, you never know when someone will “go off,” cause a scene and create a YouTube video moment.
This little episode illustrates several points at once. Let’s start with rudeness. The past year has tried everyone’s patience. Lifesaving masks became a political hot button. I have my space, you have yours, let’s keep it that way. Wait, I have to get my temperature checked before I can enter? Who says? Don’t tell me about working together to help us all get back to normal, what about my freedom!
I am a big supporter of character education, which has been taught in most schools during the past quarter century. I’m starting to wonder, though. Did anyone really pay attention? If so, why do I see rude behavior, impatience and intolerance on a daily basis? Plus, roadside litter seems to be at an all-time high. Road rage is the new national pastime. And we continue to treat those who try to serve us as if they are second-class citizens.
To quote my fast-food friend, yes, at least they showed up for work. A restaurant assistant manager sat down with me recently, weary and depressed. “They offered me my own store to manage, and I could really use the money, but I said no,” she said. “I have kids, and I need to spend time with them. All of us, especially the manager are putting in 12-hour days, with almost no days off. We have opened late, closed early, and cut back all we can because no one wants to work. Our service isn’t what it used to be, and the customers take it out on us, even though we are just trying to keep the place open.”
In recent weeks, state and federal officials have taken steps to make it less attractive to just stay home and draw a check. Eventually, normalcy will return, and people who are able to work will need to get back on the clock. But until then, we must lower our expectations, and be kind to those who are trying to serve us. It isn’t their fault that we are having to wait a few minutes longer for our onion rings. Without them, we would have to eat fruits and vegetables at home. Imagine that.
Of course, rude people have been around, well, since the beginning of people. Perhaps we notice it more today because it is often on a larger stage. More than a hundred years ago, my grandfather, then a young man, was chased up a tree by the brothers of the young lady he was courting. They kept him up there for a while because that’s what bullies do. Eventually they let him come down, and he later married her. I suppose he gets the last laugh because I get to tell that story today. But if that sort of thing happened today, there would be cellphone video, and it would be on the internet so the whole world could laugh at his plight.
It’s no wonder that rudeness is widely practiced and mirrored today. From the White House to Congress, to our state and local officials, the behavior of the people who represent us is not exactly role model material.
Just think: When we came home from school a generation or two ago, we saw Sheriff Andy Taylor, Hoss Cartwright, and Batman in all sorts of predicaments. Each had the power to bully others, with their badge, their size or their superpowers. Instead, they showed us how to solve problems with wit, kindness and knowledge.
Since then, we’ve been overexposed to the confrontational talk shows, the “anything for ratings and clicks” reality shows, and the cable news blowhards who poison the national mood on a nightly basis.
Maybe why among the reasons my profession, the news business, is such an easy target. Quite often, someone will call and ask me, “Why isn’t (that negative incident that fits my agenda) in California on the news? No one is reporting that!” I usually respond, Well, it must have been on the news. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know about it.” Then they just get madder at me and hang up, unhappy with my service. Oh well, at least I showed up.