I received an email the other day from the bagel store that I have frequented for over two decades. Yes, even after carbs became out of vogue, I am still religious in my support and consumption.
In this surprising email, the storeowner mandated that customers be nicer. Specifically, we should understand that as they are beginning to take challah orders for Rosh Hashanah,
“Any customer exhibiting behavior deemed unacceptable or unreasonable may be refused service that day or possibly longer depending on the severity of the event. We have ZERO TOLERANCE.”
I have read about abuses suffered by those serving customers, but it was never this close to home. It made me wonder why we are so mean and how we can self-correct.
Evidence of this new meanness is all around us. Here are just a few examples.
A customer at McDonald’s in Ravenna, Ohio, stormed behind a counter and demanded that the McDonald’s employee make her a Slurpee with all three flavors mixed together. Before the incident was over, she landed multiple punches on two McDonald’s employees. On her way out and handcuffed, the attacker explained that she’d been “up all day.” The last part sounds like most of us.
On a recent Southwest flight, a passenger delivered a hook to a flight attendant, which yielded a broken nose and the loss of two teeth. The apparent cause of the passenger’s rage? A request to fasten the seatbelt and put up the tray table. Maybe that passenger had also been “up all day.”
According to the FAA, through May of this year, there were 394 “unruly passenger” violations compared to 146 and 183 violations in all of 2019 and 2020, respectively. That explains why the Transportation Security Administration has launched self-defense courses for flight attendants. In a poll of 5,000 attendants, 58 percent said they had experienced at least five “unruly passenger” incidents. Is this about mask mandates and alcohol consumption or something more? My guess is something more.
Unfortunately, our meanness isn’t only in the air. Restaurant owners struggle, too, with a reduced workforce and anxious, demanding customers. At a Hooters’ restaurant in Illinois, police were called in recently when a customer got into a loud argument about the bill. At a Chili’s Bar and Grill, a fight broke out between patrons and the hostess over Corona virus-related dining rules. The hostess received five stitches in the brawl. These are just “ordinary” fights, but with only a little effort and Google, you can find extraordinary ones.
What are we to do? To some extent, we can understand our growing meanness. Our world has been upended. School, work, travel, and simple pleasures like visiting granny have all changed, and not in a good way. Nothing illustrates our pain better than the image of a lone driver in his car, fully masked, windows up as he drives himself somewhere. He appears to be protecting himself from himself. Could anything feel more dystopian?
While we understand our mood, the difficult question is what can we do. If we were feeling generous, we might hearken back to the wisdom of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” who says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” Of course, the figurative image of climbing in someone’s skin doesn’t work during COVID, but really the point is that our empathy muscles aren’t working well.
The only truth we feel these days is our truth. Like the driver wearing a mask, it’s hard to get beyond our emotional walls, let alone climb around and explore someone else’s.
So if Atticus’ words don’t work for us, let’s try some honest self-centeredness. Consider the unintended consequences of our meanness. If flight attendants leave their jobs, fewer planes will fly. That means fewer options and pricier.
And about those restaurants… if we are nice and leave a good tip, we are reminding those who serve us that we appreciate them. They might feel a tad better, and our experience might be more positive. It’s a classic “win-win” situation.
What are we to do? I hear my dad’s words, long past but so relevant, “What goes around comes around.”
I’m ready for some good to come around. How about you?