“Well why don’t you just share the dang table?” the exasperated restaurant owner said, throwing his hands in the air. My friend shot me a glance and a shrug that I reciprocated in a “whatever, I’m hungry” acceptance of anything that would get me a plate of food in the next 10 minutes.
We had been waiting over an hour for a table on the rooftop of the nicest restaurant in our small town. It was a low country boil, complete with pots of crawfish, shrimp, potatoes and sausage. All you can eat, with a band and a late summer break from the sweltering heat of North Carolina in August.
We were sitting on a bench, nursing cocktails and catching each other up on our lives as we waited. The text notifying us to head downstairs to the hostess station arrived as the busboy was clearing the table right in front of us. “We’ll be back in a second!” we joked with him as walked back into the building.
By the time we followed the hostess back up the stairs, we were greeted with the sight of the exasperated owner trying to reason with the couple who had taken our empty table uninvited. They had been sitting on the bench next to us, and had apparently decided they could grab the table before we got back. The hostess whispered to us, “They told me they didn’t want to be on the waiting list for a table up here.” So many emotions crossed her face at that moment, frustration with people who bucked her system, embarrassment and shame that we were standing there without our promised table, and fear over what the owner might say to her for messing up the most essential piece of her job.
“Don’t stress,” I told her. “It will be fine.” Her small smile and thank you told me she appreciated the thought, but I’m not sure how much it really helped to alleviate her worries.
I tell this story not to complain over something as trivial as a restaurant seating order. I am incredibly appreciative that I live in a gentle southern town and can have peaceful nights out with my friends and family. However, as I sat on that rooftop, awkwardly trying to make mealtime conversation with two complete strangers who had just treated me with complete disregard in order to get what they wanted, I saw this incident as a symptom of what’s wrong with our culture as a whole.
Do You Notice How You Impact the People Around You?
There are a million little ways in which we treat the people around us with disregard, most of which we don’t even notice. When you’re waiting at a counter without a clear line, do you push your way to the front, or do you make an effort to ensure that the people who were waiting before you get served first? Do you hold doors for people when you see they have their hands full? When someone looks lost, or afraid and alone, do you ask them if they’re OK?
Every interaction you have in a day is an opportunity to put something positive or negative into the world. When we add each of those interactions, multiplied by thousands of people in a small town, millions of people in cities and billions of people in the world — the balance of those actions snowball into an overall impact. Unfortunately, the negative impact often outshines and reduces the positive impact.
Our rooftop table-jacking companions might have gotten their stomachs filled that night, but at what cost? An already stressed out restaurant owner (who is also the chef) had to leave the kitchen to deal with them, making the kitchen staff work harder and potentially delayed the food of everyone in the building. The hostess, who did nothing wrong was possibly reprimanded or even fired. And my relaxing Mom’s night out became, well… not so relaxing. So many negative impacts to so many hard-working people who were just trying to serve their customers. All for something this couple could have if they had just put their names on the waiting list.
The saddest part of this for me is recognizing that some people are purposely and actively out for themselves, like my accidental table mates were. In fact, there are people who feel that giving an inch to anyone is a personal slight to themselves.
It’s Just Not Normal
Reading Dr. Phil’s book Life Code I had an eerie sense of déjà vu as it followed the pattern of events that I experienced too many times in the past. He calls them BAITERS (stands for Backstabbers/Abusers/Imposters/Takers/Exploiters/Reckless) and in the book Dr. Phil spells out exactly how the users, abusers and exploiters think and act. It was disturbingly spot on.
This selfish and exploitative behavior is so much a part of the BAITERs personality that their bad behavior is rampant and almost unstoppable. I was recently trading stories with a colleague of how a BAITER had once targeted me so severely that it resulted in a stress heart attack. We realized we had been targeted by the same person, five years apart! This BAITERs exploitation and self-serving acts had been so rampant that her victims are starting to randomly run into each other. How many other people have I met that have dealt with her and I didn’t know about it?
Even Dr. Phil admits there isn’t a whole lot of hope for the BAITERS. But luckily, most of us aren’t THAT. We’re just regular people trying to get through life the best we can. The problem is, we don’t do the best we can. Not because we’re bad people. But because we simply aren’t paying attention.
I openly admit, I don’t always make the unselfish choice in my own life. I do try to be aware of my surroundings and take the opportunities to create a high point in someone else’s day. If I have a full cart and you’ve got three items behind me at the checkout line, I’ll often let you in front of me. I will hold the door for you, and if you look like you are lost and need some help, I’ll do my best to get you situated. But more often than I’d like, I don’t see these opportunities around me. And sometimes I inadvertently do things that cause bad experiences for someone else. I’m only human after all.
All I ask of you is the same thing I ask of myself. Be more aware. When you see the opportunity to make someone else smile, or ease a little bit of their burden, take it. Maybe you can’t change the world by opening a door or offering a smile. You certainly can make the world a better place for that moment, for that person. Why not do it?
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Dr. Phil – The Huffington Post