A Not-too-long, Boring, but Encouraging Coffee Shop Story

I often do some writing and editing at several local coffee shops. There is something about the energy I get from being around other people, mostly strangers, that draws words out of me.

Most of my visits to those diner-style coffee shops are uneventful. Some, more eventful. Others, very profound. (Even if only in a subtle way)

Two days ago, I stopped by my favorite local haunt to spend an hour editing the final draft of my new book, read a bit, and get a few cups of java down in me. The place was nearly empty when I arrived. After 30 minutes, I was the only customer there.

As I edited, I heard the shift manager complaining to the cook about the state of some other employees who call in often, are late, or just no-call/no-shows. The two men commiserated a bit as they swept the floor, rolled utensils tightly in paper napkins,  and did other tasks. Also, the manager called some servers on the phone in an attempt to shore-up the schedule for the rest of the week. He was only partially successful it seemed.

Then, a young (maybe 16 or 17 year old) waitress showed up. As she was walking in, the manager met her at the door, motioning with his arms in an “I don’t need you here” fashion. She walked in anyway, asking what the deal was. He explained that she had called in with only minutes notice a few days prior, put the rest of that day’s workers in a bind, and that he was considering firing her. She attempted to smooth the situation over, but wasn’t successful and left. A few minutes later, she came back in with a middle-aged man and  both walked toward the manager. I thought to myself, “This may turn into a blow-out,” and readied my camera phone just in case a video-worthy event took place. I have seen too many things get out of hand over the years and I am a bit edgy when I see people possibly heading toward a serious contention. I figured this guy might be “dad” coming in to straighten the boss out on behalf of his daughter.

The man and the manager started talking about the situation… and I was wonderfully surprised. I am a sucker for civil conversation. I absolutely love engaging in respectful discourse, even if the participants don’t agree on a particular matter. Also, I so rarely observe disagreeing parties in person or on social media who are able to succinctly present their case, hear the other’s, discuss both sides, and then achieve an amicable resolution, respectfully disagree, or agree on something that was previously disagreed on. Beyond that, observing a person change his or her mind on a firmly held position in 2015 is nigh to seeing a unicorn at the park.

Due to my persuasions regarding discourse, I was very happy to observe the manager express his concerns about the server’s performance and reliability in a respectful way and with an even temper. Then, the father-figure apologized for the issues on behalf of the girl. He asked for a second chance for the girl and gave credibility to the manager’s concerns. Also, the girl assured the manager of her commitment to do better and genuinely gave heed to his concerns. After some more conversation and consideration, the manager allowed for a write-up rather than firing. He clearly shared his expectations, which were reasonable, and the consequences present if they were not met. All parties ended the conversation respectfully, amicably, having reached a common position, and asserting a common goal. Not one voice had even been raised through the whole parley. I had to pinch myself.

I know that was a boring, everyday type of story. But, there is a great lesson to be gained. That being, our abilities to deal with other people, have conflicts, argue, discourse, and find common ground (or not) are “everyday” skills. They aren’t just for a college debate class, the board room, marriage counseling, or when some aspect of a relationship breaks down. Those abilities are for the coffee shop, for Facebook threads, for our home, for our friends, and even for our enemies.

Witnessing that interaction between three strangers encouraged me. I personally hope to do as well the next time I have some type of disagreement. Fellow humans, we’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go. Pass the love on! 🙂

Here is a related TED talk by William Ury that I very much enjoy. If you have a spare 20 minutes, it would be worth your time.


Your 2014 Narrative

“There is no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction; there’s only narrative.” -E. L. Doctorow

As human beings, we are social, pattern seeking creatures that crave a narrative. It is of the utmost importance to have an overall schema to assimilate all other events, people, and data into; a big “What?” and “Why?” Less a functional and sufficient narrative in life, a person will likely fall prey to a sort of contextual and social vertigo. Such things can cause a great feeling of distress in life.

It is an evil crime to rob one of his or her history, because that is where one’s narrative begins. Such things were done to millions of kidnapped Africans, in a few previous centuries, via the Atlantic slave trade. These Africans were taken from one narrative and injected into a harsh an unjust new one, with a different name and religion.

A narrative is so important to us, that if we don’t have one, we’ll welcome another person or group to dispense one for us. Many times, we find the solace of an established narrative and tradition in ancient religious books; sometimes, in a more recent dogma. A modern KKK member sees their self in a land run by oppressive Jews and infected with immoral black people. A traditional Buddhist would feel the need to be at peace and in harmony with his or her own inner self and the external world. Either narrative is as effective at giving one a sense of meaning, importance, and social context. But, I hope the vast majority of us can see that one narrative is ideologically superior and more beneficial to society, as well as to the individual.

One may feel a certain Nihilistic taint toward this idea of narrative. The question could be raised, “We all just die in the end and probably have little impact while alive, so why does it really matter?” I would answer that question in this fashion; if the only person your narrative mattered to was you and the only time it mattered was now, wouldn’t that be enough? As a parallel, if you, and only you, were in excruciating pain at this moment, would that not be important…if only to you? The same parallel could be made about intense pleasure. At the very least, aren’t “you” enough to matter?

All of that said, a proper narrative consists of three primary components: 1. Past-Where did you come from? 2. Present-Who are you now/what are you doing 3. Future-Where are you headed and who will you become? Of course, you don’t live in a vacuum. You are surrounded by family, friends, strangers, and enemies perhaps that help make up and add nuance to your narrative. For the moment, we’ll just focus on the individual…you.

One of the most exciting parts of this narrative is number 3; the future. This is the only component of your narrative that is not fixed. That is where 2014 comes in to play. What is your desire for this coming year? What do you want to do? Who would you like to become? You can make an impact on your own life and situation. I hope that you do not feel certain impotence toward yourself. If so, I hope you will realize that you have a great deal of power in your own life, situation, and mental state. Own it.

So, this is our assignment… Take a blank sheet of paper and pen or open up a new Word file. Write, “1. Where have I come from?” and leave ample space. Next write, “2. Who am I and what is my life now?” Leave some space. Last write, “3. What do I want to accomplish and who do I want to become in 2014?” Leave some more space. Spend a day ruminating on these questions deeply. Don’t trouble yourself with 2015, a decade from now, or eternity…just 2014. None of that will exist until 2014 has, so one thing at a time. Tomorrow, fill in the blanks. Then, spend the year moving forward in the narrative of your own choosing, empowered and purposed.