I was enjoying some greasy fast food with my kids one Saturday afternoon after running errands. As we walked into the golden arches, I noticed a woman outside enjoying a cigarette. While we were waiting in line, with about 10 other people, we saw the woman rush back into the store to help the overworked staff.
A customer standing next to us started yelling at the employee who had begun filling brown paper bags with fries, burgers, and nuggets, “I saw you,” she said. “I saw you out there sucking back your cigarette, then you came in here and touched our food without washing your hands!”
The employee was obviously mortified as the whole place heard the woman yelling at her during the crazy lunch rush. “I know, you’re right. I came back in and they were so busy I just…” she responded but was cut off by the angry customer.
“It’s disgusting! Why would you do that! How much food did you touch with your unwashed hands, and what else have you touched? What is wrong with you?”
The woman wouldn’t stop; she was relentless. Everyone was staring. The employee was getting teary, and the manager came over and told her to go wash her hands and leave the floor for a bit. He then apologized profusely to the customer.
“That’s gross,” my oldest son whispered to me, “But I do feel bad for her.”
I was glad he followed it up with that last sentence because I know that as much as he wanted his McDouble, he didn’t want someone who had just smoked a cigarette to touch his food. But his comment showed me that he’d probably never treat someone the way that employee had been treated.
This led to a discussion with my three teens about the importance of criticizing in private and praising in public. A bit cliché, I know, but our conversation was more meaningful after they were actually able to see the ugliness of being criticized in a public place, even if it wasn’t directed at them.
And I’m proud to say that my daughter didn’t chime in with her usual, “Mom, does everything have to be a life-lesson?” like she does when I turn shows, the lyrics of a song, or witness someone being a jerk to someone into a teachable moment. I’m hoping that’s a sign we are making progress.
The employees distress was palpable. And while I felt for her, I am hoping that what happened was a lesson for everyone standing in that restaurant; people should be treated better than she was that day. A little bit of compassion goes a long way, and when you feel the urge to unleash on someone, whether you know them or not, at least have the decency to pull them aside and do it privately.
You are allowed to be angry and tell someone how you feel but you don’t need an audience and you don’t need witnesses when you are shredding someone to pieces (if you feel that’s what you must do). Tearing someone apart in public doesn’t strengthen your point.
I am willing to bet that the woman being criticized was so humiliated that she wasn’t able to hear the message that was being forced down her throat.
However, had the customer taken her aside, and said in a quiet voice, “I noticed you didn’t wash your hands after your smoke break, can you please go do that now?” the employees would have had the opportunity to do just that. And if she didn’t, the customer could have asked to speak to the manager, or could have left and given a bad review.
It would have gotten the message to her more effectively, and would not have ruined her entire day, which I’m pretty sure it did.
Teaching our children it’s not okay to take someone down in public is imperative–we should show them how to to praise in public and criticize in private by doing just that, but sometimes that isn’t enough. We need to teach them how to give constructive criticism. The same holds true for social media. Calling someone out on a Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook is never a good idea. If you want to criticize someone, you don’t need to shame them as well.
Unfortunately, my kids are going to be stuck with my “turning everything into a life lesson” as long as they are under my roof. In fact, I’m pretty sure I won’t give it up completely just because they don’t live with me anymore.
Honestly, there are some adults who could benefit from a refresher in life lessons, and the woman who chose to embarrass the employee in the middle of a crowded fast food joint could definitely use one, or five.