Thursday, December 22, 2011

"I'd like a baked potato, hold the negativity!"

I went out with my wife and a good friend--who I will call Amy--for dinner earlier this evening at a local sit-down chain restaurant. I will do my best to describe what I experienced, but let me start by saying this: A positive attitude always wins. Yeah, it's hard. Our jobs sometimes suck. Our lives sometimes suck. The economy is bad. Congress does nothing. Kim Jong-Il is dead. We have bills to pay and not enough money to pay them. We're tired, sick, unloved, or as my sister used to say, "friendless, neglected and dressed funny." But there are times and places to vent negativity.

With that said, I believe that there is (almost) never a reason to vent to your customers, and find the practice unprofessional at best and downright damaging to business success at its worst. I don't start tarot readings or astrology consultations with, "Well, my life sucks. My scale seems to be stuck, my hands are cracking open because of the cold, and I don't think I'll ever get over knowing that wrestling is fake." There is a powerful mind-body connection; while bad things happen to us, we choose how we react to them. There are times when we are feeling low, and we should express those feelings, but to those we trust, and in private settings.

The three of us meet once a week for dinner, and we enjoy each other's company tremendously. This time, "Negative Nancy"--and her name has been changed to Nancy for the purpose of this blog--was our server. She came and took our drink orders and then came back for our food order. So far, everything was going to plan. So we start engaging in conversation over the events of the past week.

Nancy returns with the salads, and this is where the problem begins. My salad is correct, but Jen's isn't. So Nancy places the other two salads down, complaining that because of her diabetes she just had eye surgery yesterday and that she can't even read her own handwriting. So she returns to the kitchen to get Jen's salad, and now Amy finds out that her salad is wrong. Amy plows ahead eating her salad, only to find a bug in it. When Nancy comes back with Jen's salad, Amy informs her of the problem, so she removes Amy's, joking about the "extra protein" that Amy missed out on.

Nancy departs. At this point, I'm giggling because I don't want to get angry with Nancy; the "protein" comment should never have been made, and I'm thinking this is one of the worst experiences I've ever had at a chain restaurant. Not all of it was Nancy's fault, but she certainly wasn't making things better for us.

When Nancy returns, she directs her question to me. Apparently she is "going crazy" because she can't read her own handwriting, so she confirms my order, which wasn't exactly what I said earlier. It was pretty close, so not wanting to take chances, I confirm the incorrect choice, which I'm prepared to eat without a problem.

During one of her passes by our table, Nancy stops and starts to chat with us. In many restaurants, they encourage the servers to be friendly and joke around with the customers. Personally, it's a nice touch and kind of makes the customer feel at home. This was unfortunately NOT the case for Nancy. During the five-minute monologue, during which all of us nodded our heads and agreed because we didn't want to tell her to leave us alone, Nancy told us the following:
  • She is from the Caribbean and has no money because she spent it on plane tickets back home to see her brother get married last month. Nancy has no idea why anyone would want to marry her brother, but the tickets are non-refundable so she's stuck;
  • She lives with her sister, her brother-in-law, and her three nieces and nephews. Her brother-in-law likes to "sit on his fat butt, drink beer and watch football" on Sundays. Nancy bought her nephew an easel to draw on, but the little boy prefers drawing on the walls. Nancy spent a lot of time with her Mr. Clean Eraser to undo the damage, but while her brother-in-law watches football the little boy writes on the walls with dad just sitting there, doing nothing.
  • She provides a list of Christmas presents that she has bought or has chosen not to buy this year for her nieces and nephews, either for economic or personal reasons, which she was kind enough to relay to us.
While we're trying to at least be polite--and granted, we could have told her to leave us alone, but it would have been rude any way we'd have tried--Nancy's manager is watching us from across the room. I see the manager walk past our table and say, "Nancy" to get our server's attention. Nancy keeps right on talking until about 20 seconds later, the manager calls out to her again: "Nancy, table 3 needs you." With a huge roll of her eyes and a muttered remark--I didn't catch it exactly, but I strongly suspect it was not professional in nature as it started with "She's such a"--Nancy excuses herself and heads off. I got the strong sense that Nancy's boss was not happy with her performance. 

Through the course of the rest of the meal, during which Nancy refilled some drinks but not others, brought out at least one incorrect side item, and generally made a nuisance of herself, we learned that she used to work at Wendy's--she was a 14-year veteran over there--but can't eat their food anymore. She has no idea why they started using sea salt on the fries, either, because in Nancy's mind it makes no difference at all. And did you know that "[aloo]" is the way they say "potato" in Hindi? I found this out when no baked potato came out for me and Nancy remedied that deficiency in my cultural literacy. 

Not to worry; we didn't let Nancy ruin our enjoyment of the meal. We speculated that perhaps her remarks may have been tailored to get a larger tip--"feel bad for me because I'm broke" kind of thing--but in the end, we really weren't sure.

I was stunned that someone would just vomit all of that negativity onto whoever was around--in this case, paying customers. I also left the restaurant with the strong impression that this was not the first time that Nancy's boss told her to stop blabbing and get back to work; I suspect that other private conversations between the two of them were much more pointed.

You know, I'm trying hard for compassion here, folks. It's something I work on every day. Nancy is working, despite being post-surgery and all of her personal and economic challenges. And being a server in a restaurant is a hard job; I have tremendous respect for them because they have to be nice, take poor treatment from customers, and work very hard for very little money. But there are some things you just don't do, and you shouldn't use paying customers as a dumping ground for your personal problems. The bottom line is I DON'T CARE about your personal issues. Go to work and do your best to put your problems aside. That's sometimes hard, but we all have to do it to earn a living.

I know you're wondering how all of this turned out in the end. I gave Nancy around 15%, even though I've been tipping around 20% these days with the bad economy. My Christmas gift to Nancy was not telling her boss about her incredibly poor attitude and performance.

So, Merry Christmas, Nancy! I hope you can find a way to be happy despite your problems. I will make you one promise, though: I play Old Saint Nick only once a year, and this is a restaurant I go to fairly regularly. If I draw you again and you behave similarly, your manager and I will have a pointed conversation of our own, and at that point you may have more to worry about than your lazy brother-in-law and Mr. Clean erasers. But even if this restaurant doesn't pan out, Wendy's would likely take you back. At least there your customers wouldn't be under your care for so long.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'll take Separation of Church and State for $200, please, Alex...

Here we go again.  In the past few years, the Loudoun County (VA) Courthouse has been the scene of controversy. A manger scene and a Christmas tree were all that were present since 1937, but since a 2009 courthouse committee decision to allow other ten unattended displays on the grounds, other groups have petitioned to put up religious or non-religious displays of their own.

Notably, atheist and anti-consumer groups have put up displays. The anti-consumer group showed a skeleton Santa--protesting the consumerism in the holidays--that has torn down by angry citizens twice. (According to the article, signs were posted celebrating the winter solstice, but they're not causing the angst, something for which I am very thankful). The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster will also put up a display this weekend.

[NOTE: FSM is a parody religion created in 2005 when the Kansas State Board of Education decided it wanted to add intelligent design to science classes in their state. Google them and check them out; I think they're pretty funny and they make a good point. And they won in Kansas, and then later in Florida.] 

A few years ago, this committee decided to not allow ANY unattended displays, and locals were all up in arms to continue to have them. So the group reached a fair compromise: They allow a certain number of groups to put things up, on a first-come-first-served basis.  

I'm not really sure I understand what all the fuss is about. To me, it's really simple. It is a county courthouse space, and the entire county pays for it. The manger doesn't necessarily represent the entire county's religious beliefs, so it shouldn't be there. Use your own space for your own spiritual front of your home or house of worship, inside your home or car, or at a religious academic institution, for example.

Honestly, if I had my way, it would be no displays at all for any federal, state, county, or municipal buildings or public spaces. And YES, a manger scene IS indeed a religious symbol; just because it has been around for a while doesn't make it "traditional".

Just more controversy to add to the excitement of the holidaze! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Review: The Psychic Way: Fine-Tuning Your Intuition by Barbara Ford-Hammond

The Psychic Way: Fine-Tuning Your Intuition
Barbara Ford-Hammond
Sixth Books

Imagine going to an ice cream shop. As you walk through the door the walls covered with a hundred freezer drawers. Inside each drawer is a different flavor of ice cream, but only just a spoonful of each, and every flavor is one that you enjoy. You open a drawer, sample the ice cream, and savor the flavor, only to have disappointment set in when you realize it’s gone. But you smile because you’ve got a whole bunch of flavors to try, and it keeps you going. And because it’s only a small amount—just a taste—there’s no stomach upset afterward.

You’ve just experienced what reading The Psychic Way was like for me. It is filled with lots of different techniques to improve your intuition. A number of them I’ve used before, and some I haven’t, but I felt like each one was just a morsel of total bliss. I found myself wanting more of, well…just about everything! And that may well be the point: To give the reader an idea of what kind of intuitive development techniques s/he might enjoy to explore them further through practice as well as books and classes.

Take the chakras, for example. Lots of us work with them, study them, meditate with them, and teach them. Ms. Ford-Hammond has a chapter in the book on them. It has a nice intro for those new to chakra work, a quick list of the chakras and their associated colors, and some exercises to try. Whole books have been written about the chakras, but if you’re new to it, you just get a taste. If you like it, maybe you’ll take a chakra class at a local metaphysical store, or buy a book on chakras, or do a Google search to increase your knowledge. Don’t like the “taste” of chakras? There are plenty of other flavors to choose from. If not for this book, you might never have known that you did or didn’t like the “taste” at all.

One of my favorite chapters was called “The Clairs”. I’m talking about clairaudience, clairvoyance, clairsentience, claircognisence, and several other “clairs”. Many people have intuitive feelings and don’t know what to call them. I have no doubt that a number of people who read this book shouted, “Oh wow! That’s me!” when reading the individual descriptions of the techniques. One point that I thought was valid was for the student to understand that these can be mixed together; like the five senses, you may rely on one in particular, but together they can be quite powerful. For someone just touching the edges of their intuitive power, this could be a very important message.

I also liked the stories. After you read some of the accounts in this book, you’ll question what you call “coincidence”. The narratives hammer home the point that any person has the ability to develop their intuitive gifts.

One of the few disappointing aspects of this book was that like the fictional ice cream shop, there were not enough stories, and some of the chapters weren’t long enough. I was just starting to enjoy reading about auras when the chapter ended four pages later.

This book is great for beginners and anyone unfamiliar with the intuition and how to make it more effective. If you’re looking for a way to develop your own gifts and you’re not sure where to turn, it’s a great resource. Personally, I’d give it as a gift to people who doubt their intuition or who are really interested in learning more but don’t know where to begin.

Sometimes you want a big bowl of your favorite ice cream flavor: Swiss chocolate almond, peanut butter ripple, peppermint stick, or just plain old chocolate. But The Psychic Way lets you experience a lot of different flavors in a neat little package, and is a great place to start. And keep those freezer drawers closed so the rest of us can have a taste! 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I trust you...unless you're an atheist?

A recent article appeared in the Washington Post recently about anti-athiesm. Here's the article:

Basically, the data indicated that we--and I say "we" meaning the 770 American adults and Canadian college students who participated in this survey--trust rapists to do the right thing more than atheists.

Granted, this is an extremely small sampling of North Americans. But read that last sentence again, please, and let it sink in. Now let's look at the definition of "atheist" from "One who believes there is no deity."

So if we put two and two together, we get "Those who believe there is no higher power are untrustworthy." Seriously...are you kidding me?

Part of it is likely that when people hear "athiest", they think that because a person doesn't believe in a higher power, and, therefore, has no moral code to speak of. Atheists are not AMORAL; they do have a code, but it is one of their own making, and may or may not be based on a particular spiritual or religious belief. Just because it does not come from a "spiritual" place doesn't make it any less valid than our own.

Also, keep in mind that many atheists were once practitioners of a religion, likely one that they were raised with, and that background along with their life experiences has led them to choose atheism.

As a spiritual person, I choose what spiritual path I follow and how much that path influences my own choices. For example, when I was a practicing Catholic, the moral code of that religion is pro-life in all circumstances. I have been pro-choice since I knew about the issue, so that particular precept of Catholicism didn't sway me simply because that was the path I was on. Many Wiccans believe that being vegetarian or vegan is the way to go, but I don't choose to live my life that way. So like atheists, our code is our own individually. If you've heard the term "cafeteria Catholic", for example, you know what I'm talking about. It may sound like a derogatory term, but it's not to me; it showcases what all of us do on an individual spiritual level, in my humble opinion.

Just like we choose what will and will not affect our beliefs, atheists CHOOSE to not believe in any higher power. Again, that doesn't mean that they don't know right from wrong, or that they are inherently untrustworthy because they choose not to believe in a higher power.  I love spiritual people, but I don't love or trust people any less who choose atheism. I have one atheist in my life and if it came down to it, I'd trust him with my life. He's one of the most trustworthy people I know and always has been. The idea that he or any other atheist is less than trustworthy or somehow immoral is patently ridiculous.

And don't even get me started on the incredibly awful, immoral, unconscionable choices made over the years by people who believe in a higher power. Let me throw out the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, thousands of wars, and centuries of religious discrimination as just a few examples. Being "spiritual" or "religious" doesn't necessarily mean "trustworthy" either, folks.

Spirituality is a choice. Not being spiritual is a choice. Being someplace in the middle is a choice. And they are all valid choices for each person. The moment that we start to discriminate based on lack of belief is the moment we put ourselves in the same category as bigots. Tolerance is not just for those who believe.

What this all comes down to is ego. Take away the words, what it says is, "I'm better than you are because I believe in [INSERT DEITY OR SPIRITUAL PATH HERE], and you believe in nothing. So obviously you are somehow defective." Bullshit!

With the holiday season coming, respect everyone's choices and check your ego. If you won't bash another religion but you somehow find yourself looking down on atheists, then know that you've become part of the intolerance that makes life difficult for both believers and atheists alike.

If you'd rather trust a rapist, that's up to you. But I'll take anyone--atheist or no--over violent sexual offender any day of the week.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A fantastic article on tolerance

Hello everyone,

Every once in a great while, an article really hits home for me. This one definitely did. Take a look!

It's getting a lot of buzz on the internet, and one of my friends posted it on his Facebook page. Please don't be put off by the title: it's not meant to be anti-gay, anti-Christian, or anti-anyone. I think it showcases very well the true meaning of tolerance.

Read the responses, too. Lots of people commented on this blog, and you can bet that the author got a lot of flack for posting it. The first and second "powerful responses" he lists will give you some idea. They are below:

I admire and respect the author's courage for posting this article, and hope that you see the larger message beyond the words: Love everybody.

I know it's hard, people. We all have egos, opinions, biases, stereotypes and beliefs, and they get in the way all the time; I am as guilty of it as anyone. But what I found fantastic about this article is that it transcended the idea of religion or sexual preference in a way very few pieces I've read have been able to do. It's one thing to say  "[INSERT RELIGION HERE] says we shouldn't condemn others for being [INSERT DIFFERENCE HERE], and let's not do that anymore." It's more than that. "Love is amazing and should be the norm" is a message we can all get behind, I think.

I hope you enjoy it and pass it along to friends and family.