February 1, 2013

Ownership of Words

If I had one wish, or one bit of advice to simplify your life, it would be to own the words that come out of your mouth.  One of my pastimes seems to be a kind of people watching.  One of the patterns I've noticed is a reluctance to stand by a statement or to acknowledge fault.  The most recent dustup in the news that caught my attention was the story of the snarky pastor who refused to tip on their portion of the bill for a table of 20 people.  Being such a large group, the 18% gratuity was automatically calculated by the POS system.  In return, this godly creature wrote a sarcastic note to the effect of "I give god 10%, what makes you think you deserve 18%?".

A fellow waitress (Not the one who waited on the party of 20) thought it was ridiculous and posted it on reddit for others to enjoy as humorous.  The image went unexpectedly viral, getting hundreds of thousands of views.  This fine, upstanding member of the church of the poisoned pen later called the restaurant, demanding that all involved be fired for the "leak".  Her note had reached the ears and eyes of her contemporaries and was besmirching her reputation.  

Sadly, this absurd demand held water with the chain's management and the waitress was relieved of her duties.  I'm sad for her, but I can understand it from an HR perspective.  (Though, I can imagine that this decision will impact their sales.  Plenty of people know how to vote with their wallet.)  What really gets my goat is the behavior of this clergyman.  She obviously wrote the note for someone to see it, and to be an asshole about paying someone for their services.  However, once the ink was dry on those poisonous words, they were no longer hers to control.  They became property of the internet, giving the entire world a peek into how she acts when she thinks only very few are watching.  Turns out, Applebees might be good enough for dinner, but this pastor doesn't particularly care for the taste of crow.

I heard on the morning radio show I listen to, one of the hosts agree with me on this point.  Being this sort of an asshole isn't something you'd expect from a person representing their faith in an official capacity.  Was it right that the waitress snapped a photo of the receipt that included the signature along with the note?  No.  That could open up the pastor to identity theft.  But, in a day and age where the internet is just a shutter click away, and it takes nothing but luck to go viral, it's safe to assume that anything and everything can be seen by someone a half a world away in a matter of moments.  What makes me shake my head about this whole mess rests squarely on the shoulders of the pastor.  Here's my thinking.  If your career in life is something that you have to take home with you, or bring out in the world amongst the populace, then you can't really take off that hat, so to speak.  Meaning, you don't stop being expected to behave like a pastor after the sermon is over on Sundays.  There is no quitting time.  So, if you behave in such a way that's unbecoming to your station, then you deserve to be called out on it, regardless of how many people witness it.  You can't be a jerk to a small number of people and think it's ok if doing the same thing in front of thousands would embarrass you.  Prior to the internet, it was nearly impossible to recover from a misstep such as this.  In the age of camera phones and mobile internet apps, it's impossible to unrign that bell.  The short lesson here is; learn to balance your life between living like everything you do is screencapped and not succumbing to outright paranoia.  Somewhere in the middle there you'll have an awful lot less to worry about.

Who knows if this pastor learned anything from this whole mess.  I doubt so based on the fact that she followed up the viral storm with an angry phone call demanding those involved be fired.  To my mind, what would have been more appropriate for someone of her profession would be to turn the other cheek and own the fact that she had a "human" moment when spite got the better of her.  Perhaps some wouldn't be able to forgive, but truthfully, that's on their hearts, not hers.  Much like the maxim that if you never lie, you don't have to have a good memory, if you speak and act in ways you don't have to explain or justify, you've got alot less to clean up for yourself.  Something to think about on this February afternoon.

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