Most of the time, one incident does not define a person’s entire character. And then there are times when an incident can say a lot about a person’s character.
I’ve been thinking about this dichotomy ever since the above video started trending on social media, where sports reporter Britt McHenry berates an employee as she pays for her impounded vehicle. The insults are horrifyingly racist, classist, and degrading.
Bad moment, or example of true character? It’s one thing to be annoyed by the inconvenience of having your car towed. But for those kinds of insults to come out so easily…maybe that does indicate a superiority complex.
And then there are times when one bad day can bring out the worst in us, and no one wants to be remembered for that.
I remember sweeping the floor at Panera while a co-worker helped a customer who ordered a dozen bagels. She wanted each one sliced, but complained that they weren’t sliced right. So we sliced her some new bagels, which still weren’t good enough. The old ones would be wasted, which pissed me off too.
That lady was one of those customers where nothing we did was good enough – the kind that makes me want to never work any kind of customer service job ever again. But after paying, she sighed and said, “Look, I know I was rude. I shouldn’t have acted like that. But my husband just died, I have a house full of relatives, and I need to bring them breakfast before the calling hours.” And then she started to cry.
And in less than five seconds I went from wanting to punch her in the face to wanting to reach across the counter to hug her. If it were up to me, I would have given her the bagels for free. It takes humility to own up to bad behavior, and I respected her for that.
And then there are my own less-than-courteous moments, like that one time I intimidated another couple at a piano bar. Or at the doctor’s office eight months ago, when Dad was weeks away from death, and I knew that was the time to get back on anxiety pills. One of the techs was someone I went to high school with, and when she asked about the purpose of my visit, I panicked and snapped, “I want to talk to someone else.” But in a small town like mine, when I’d been going to the same doctor since I was eight and my dad was on a first-name basis with the entire staff, I guess my behavior was understood. But I couldn’t let myself go home without finding that woman to apologize for being an ass.
Maybe that’s the ultimate distinction between a bad moment and a sign of a major character flaw: the willingness to own up to it and choke down humble pie. Maybe, in the wake of the social media shit-storm, Britt McHenry will issue an apology. But there will be some who will see it as a PR stunt to save face, and in the end, no amount of kinder words will be enough to make up for it. I understand the temptation to sweep a stupid episode under a rug and pretend it never happened, because it’s easier. And we’ve all done it at some point.
The pressure only increases when you claim to be a Christian (or any religion that espouses compassion, which I suppose is all of them). It’s one reason why I’ll never have one of those fish decals on my car – not that I don’t try to be a courteous driver, but for the times I’m not, I don’t want any charges of hypocrisy thrown at me.