There is a rise in bad behavior. Indecent behavior at the NBA playoffs. People acting like fools on flights. It seems as though, along with the slow crawl back to normal, in the wake of Covid, there is an accompanying rise of bad behavior.
I was in a Chipotle line ordering my lunch a few days ago. The woman in front of me was exhibiting some of this bad behavior. She asked for lemons and the worker behind the sneeze guard said they didn’t have any lemons. “You don’t have them or you don’t want to get them?” the woman spat. Venom dripping from her mouth.
The worker did not respond. In an act of impressive willpower, the worker ignored the woman and continued helping the next customer. As I saw this unfold, I thought to myself, “Geez lady, you are lucky that sneeze guard is between you and this worker. The reaction would be different if you treated someone like this on the street”.
Either Side of The Sneeze Guard
The incident got me thinking. Like many college students struggling to get by, I’ve spent some time in the service industry. Those mantras like, “the customer is always right”. Having to swallow your anger at mistreatment.
There is a general disposition of service. We call it the service industry after all. Obviously, there are times when this wall can and should be breached. But generally speaking, the posture is to not escalate, to do what you can to help, and to try to defuse the situation.
On the other hand, there is the posture of the customer. They know the employees are tasked to help them. They know the employees are not supposed to react to their tantrums. So, they feel emboldened and entitled. They are paying, after all. So, they imagine, that gives them the right to hurl insults and stomp around when their expectations are unmet.
I’ve seen this numerous times. I have been guilty of it myself.
Crossing the Line
What is interesting to me about all of the recent tantrums is that it seems we are crossing the line in droves.
Taking this metaphor outside of the service industry, there has been (in my lifetime) a general leaning in public toward the worker side of that sneeze guard. Defuse. Try to understand where people are coming from. Move to serve and de-escalate when at all possible.
Again, there are times when this is not appropriate and helpful and a different tactic needs to be employed, but that seemed to be everyone’s Plan B. We led with our best behavior.
But our society is becoming more and more polarized, more and more untrusting of one another. We assume the worst in others and the best in ourselves. So, it has created an increased level of entitlement. Which makes sense. We have a consumer mentality – we are in the right and deserve to be treated as so, to be helped as so.
In my lifetime, there have been impeached presidents, a rise in domestic communal acts of violence (terrorists attacks), and a growing mistrust in the government and in one another. There are a lot of layers to those realities.
But one of the side effects is that we are crossing that line between a posture of slow anger to a posture of quick offense. We are moving further and further from a service-minded perspective and deeper entrenched in our own entitlement and self-justification.