After an avalanche of responses to the post about the incident in which I made an old woman cry in a McDonald’s, I have some thoughts if you’re interested:
1. The thoughtful, respectful nature of the responses was remarkable, especially considering they were so heavily skewed against me and my decision. While most people thought that some response to the woman was in order, most also thought that my response was not the right one. Still, very few of the responses were rude, antagonistic, or caustic. It warmed my heart to read such reasoned discourse.
2. The suggestions that I should’ve moderated my comments based upon the woman’s age still struck me as agism. While the woman was certainly much older than me and was walking with a cane, she also struck me as mentally acute and perfectly capable of handling herself. She fired off insults at those employees with ease and rapidity.
I also have friends who are in their 70’s who would never treat a person in this way, and if they did, I would have no problem with someone letting them have it, particularly if they were foolish enough to then invite a stranger in their cruelty.
More than one reader asked if I would want my elderly mother treated in this fashion. My mother passed away ten years ago, but if my mother had treated McDonald’s employees poorly and then told a stranger about how stupid they were, I would understand if the stranger fired back at her. No one wants their mother treated harshly, but no one wants their mother who might be working behind the counter at a McDonald’s treated harshly either.
2. Many people also suggested that I should’ve considered the source of her anger. Perhaps she was having a bad day. Maybe she was suffering from pain that I could not see or understand. It’s possible that she just received some bad news. While all of this is true, I don’t believe in giving people a pass for acting poorly.
If this were the case, I would be required to speculate about the underlying reason behind every act of cruelty or insensitivity and give everyone’s bad behavior a pass. I just don’t think that a bad day is an excuse for bad behavior.
Kid President disagrees with me on this one.
3. Many readers felt that an honest, direct approach with the woman was appropriate, but I could’ve been more compassionate and kinder with my words.
I think this is right.
A story from a friend is a good example of this:
4. Another friend wondered if my reaction was a response to the decade of indignities that I suffered while managing McDonald’s restaurants. Was my response at least partially triggered by years of poor treatment by the large swath of customers who think that fast food employees can be treated indiscriminately because of where they work.
This feels right, too. Though people who know me well will tell you that this is not the first time I have been exceptionally direct and confrontational with a stranger in response to poor behavior, I’m sure that my years at McDonald’s and the poor treatment that I routinely received influenced this reaction.
I also think that the employees’ race may have played a part. Both woman are Hispanic, and in my years of experience as a McDonald’s manager, I found that black and Hispanic employees were routinely treated worse by customers, and especially white customers. As a result, I became overly protective of these employees as a manager, rushing to their defense at every slight. Watching this older, white woman treat these two Hispanic women poorly may have triggered some of those instincts in me.
My hatred for gossip and behind-the-back cruelty certainly played a role, too. While some readers argued that behind-the-back commentary is a regular part of life, I’ve always considered this behavior cowardly, petty, and the choice of people who fear confrontation. And after having been attacked by an anonymous coward in an attempt to destroy my life, I am even more sensitive to this behavior.
5. One last question:
What if the woman didn’t cry? What if she fired back at me? Told me to go to hell? Verbally assaulted me in the way she had just done to those McDonald’s employees?
I can’t help but wonder if the reaction by readers to this incident was the result of the tears shed by the woman. Are we looking objectively at the circumstances or are we responding emotionally to the image of a crying woman?
I can’t help but think that if the woman had not cried, or the woman had launched into a tirade of swears, or the woman been a man, reader reactions might have been very different.
Food for thought.