He was struggling. No question. Struggling. He looked to be a man, once employed doing something he was good at, who is now waiting tables to earn a living, feed his family. I have nothing to base this on except the way he carried himself, how hard he tried, and the way his mistakes caused him a kind of personal pain. He worked his tables as hard as he could and he came across like a nice guy wanting to make sure people had a nice evening. But. He was struggling.
At the table next to us was a table of young people in their early twenties. They were laughing, joking and having a good time. Every now and then some of their conversation floated over our way and it was clear that this was a group who's humour was one part 'unrestrained anonymous comment' and one part 'I'm just kidding, really.' Dangerous ground to be in for a newcomer I'd think, but they seem to be navigating it really well. For me, I was just glad that when they saw me, I didn't become a topic of their 'humour.'
Music was playing. I made a mental note of the song, I know you'd know it. It was one of those hugely successful but immediately forgettable pop songs that come along every now and then. It had a catchy beat and fun lyrics, made to sing along in the car while driving on long trips. I didn't have a piece of paper, I didn't have a pen. I thought I'd commit it to memory. But the thing about immediately forgettable pops songs is that they are, as one would expect, immediately forgettable.
While the song played, the group, mockingly, got musical. Some sang along on the lyrics, some pretend danced in their seats. I was close up, I could see they were dismissive of the song and thought it bad enough to have earned ridicule.
The waiter, trying hard, came by noticed them dancing, singing and laughing, came to check if everything was OK and in doing so said that he'd loved that song when it came out. There was a frosty pause for a moment and then everyone burst out laughing. The fact that he'd been made a fool of hit his face, hard. He held on to his dignity and walked stiffly away from the table. His nickname at the table became 'Mister Music Man.'
Cruelty flowed his way.
I had just decided to do something when another waiter came to their table, said something quietly, and then continued to serve the group. I don't know what the waiter said, but the certainly had no nick name for her. He continued on with us, he seemed more relaxed the last half of the meal. I wonder if it's because he realized that he had a supportive team, that he wasn't in it alone, that the community of waiters supported each other and watched out for each other. I don't know ... but he seemed, different, after that had happened.
Since there is such cruelty in our social environments these days. Since bullying is a cause that people rally around but actually do little about. Since many of us simply don't know what to do in a situation. Maybe we can become small communities that watch out for each other. That confront those that need confrontation. It's not always the victims responsibility to educate those that feel free to bully.
Maybe we need to do what we can to keep those who learn the ways of cruelty from the freedom of anonymous comments contained to words they type in front of a screen - and not have it become a way of interacting when we are anonymous in other social environments.
Casual cruelty ... those two words, together, terrify me. I couldn't act this time. I will the next. It's my pledge to myself and to the fight for a civil society.