My husband and I went out to eat on a recent Saturday night. As is the case with almost every kosher restaurant these days, sushi was featured prominently on the menu and was one of the most popular offerings. And, as in the case with almost every kosher restaurant on a Saturday night, the place was packed.
We took the last two seats. There was one harassed waitress attending to all the patrons. At one point in the evening, one of the diners requested chopsticks. The waitress in turn asked the sushi chef. He too was overwhelmed by the crowd and none too patient. He tossed them aggressively at the waitress who responded by requested (in her justifiably annoyed tone of voice) that he not hit her with the chopsticks.
This scene, while not pleasant, would have quickly ended there if not for the outrage of another customer. She marched over to the owner to berate him about his disrespect of women and his negligence is not immediately jumping to his waitress’ defense.
Before long, everyone in the restaurant was involved, their opinion solicited by the vocal diner. Finally the owner threw up his hands in frustration and announced that he was closing the restaurant.
What interested me most was the disastrous result of good intentions. Although the customer felt very righteous in standing up for the needs of the waitress and was pleased to strike a blow for harassed and subjugated women everywhere, she may have actually done this employee more harm than good.
If she hadn’t said anything, the incident would have been quickly passed over. People lose their tempers and snap at each other in tense situations, but it doesn’t have to escalate. It wasn’t pleasant but perhaps the waitress was willing to put up with it. Perhaps the chef was responding to some earlier provocation on the waitress’ part.
Now both the owner and the sushi chef were embarrassed, with the waitress’ cry of distress the ostensible cause. The person most likely to suffer – to be criticized or even fired – would be the employee lowest on the totem pole, the one whose behavior may have contributed to the stress. You guessed it, the waitress.
This highlights in a unique way the important thinking before and during an act of kindness. The customer certainly meant well but is this what the waitress wanted? Was it to her benefit, or perhaps, unfortunately, to her detriment? Seeming acts of kindness can actually be destructive. The customer didn’t stop to analyze the consequences of her actions. She didn’t think about what was really in everyone’s best interests. Meaning well is not enough if your actions or words actually hurt people.
This story should give us all pause. I certainly learned a number of lessons from it, one of them being that next time we'll order take-out!