“He was SO rude. He’s the meanest customer I’ve ever had.”
It was a few years ago, and my niece was venting to her mother (my sister, Chris) and me after coming home from her shift at the restaurant. Erin, then 17, had recently begun waiting tables at a family restaurant. And until that day, she had never been the victim of an angry patron.
When Chris asked what had happened, Erin told us that the customer in question had been grumpy from the moment he sat down. He proceeded to berate her about everything from the freshness of the bread to how long he had to wait for his food.
Now, I knew there were myriad ways in which this could have been handled, and so I observed with curiosity. Over the years, I’ve learned quite a lot by watching Chris — as well as my younger sister Meg — deal with tough parenting situations. As they both started the motherhood journey long before me, I’ve been the recipient of not just hand-me-down clothes, but also great advice.
Chris thought about it for a bit, and then said something I’ll never forget: “Maybe he’s having the worst day of his life.”
Although my niece has always been mature for her age, and very sweet, she was rightfully perplexed when her mother didn’t jump to her defense.
“Maybe he just found out his wife is dying, or he lost his job,” my sister said. “I mean, it’s no excuse to be rude, but you don’t know what he could be going through.”
I was amazed. Chris could have easily taken the helicopter parent route and reported the angry customer to Erin’s boss, demanding a lifetime ban from the restaurant. Or she could’ve played the role of teen peer, saying, “You’re right! What a (fill in expletive term)!”
Instead, my sister chose the third option. She took the opportunity to teach her daughter how to take the high road; how to show compassion. And while it may not have had the desired effect at the time (we were dealing with a teenager, after all), I had no doubt that her words planted a seed. It’s a lesson I hope I’m able to share with my own kids. More importantly, one that I hope I can demonstrate on a regular basis, especially during the holiday season.
For many people, Christmas is a time of joy; of being reunited with family members and catching up with old friends. But, let’s face it, for many, it’s an extremely difficult time. Maybe it’s because they recently lost a loved one, or are facing financial hardships. Maybe they’re suffering from an illness, physical or mental. Maybe they can’t be with their families. For any number of reasons, maybe they can’t bring themselves to enjoy – or even celebrate – the holidays.
And it’s not always obvious to others. This could be a coworker, a friend, a waitress, a cashier, an Uber driver — anyone. That’s why it’s so important to rise above it; to resist the urge to complain to a store worker about long lines, or wail on the horn/shout expletives if a car cuts you off (which is standard practice in New Jersey), or yell at annoying kids who are probably just suffering from sensory and sugar overload. It’s the perfect time of year to stop yourself before casting judgement on a friend who hasn’t called back, or a team member who needs time off.
Not doing those things is, in and of itself, an act of kindness.
A LinkedIn post I saw the other day summed it up perfectly: “Don’t take yourself too seriously this holiday season. Work hard to put a smile on somebody else’s face. Leave a big tip to a hard working waiter or waitress. Pay something forward and make somebody’s day just a little brighter.”
By showing compassion — or, in my sister’s case — encouraging someone else to do it, that’s exactly what you’re doing.