Common Courtesy

                                                                                                                                           Photo courtesy of Photopin

Last Saturday, one of my best friends, my boyfriend and I went to the mall to get food from Stacked. My boyfriend has back issues and he has a temporary handicap sign because of the pain he experiences when he walks for too long. He was the one who drove and he pulled into a handicap spot in front of Stacked. We get out of the car and as we’re walking away, we pass by two older women and one of them shouts, in an obnoxiously judgmental manner, “why is he parked in the handicap spot?” So he turned around and said, “I have back issues, do you want to see the paperwork?” And the woman responded, “no, that’s not what I meant.” Really? That’s not what you meant? Mind you, the other woman she was with was close enough where she didn’t have to yell for her to hear her. We were far enough away that if she spoke in a normal tone of voice, we wouldn’t have heard her. My boyfriend doesn’t look like he has back issues, unless he’s wearing his back brace. He looks like your normal, 21-year-old college student who’s about to go eat with his friends. But that’s not the case; he does have back issues, which is why he has the handicap sign.

Common courtesy dictates that if she had a question, or if she was trying to be sassy about it, she could have said it to herself or whispered it. She could have phrased the question differently if she was sincere and wanted to know why he was parked there. But no, she intentionally said it loudly and rudely, without even thinking about how her statement could be offensive. She had the audacity to presume that since my boyfriend didn’t look like he had a physical handicap, he was just using the sign for convenience. Instead of keeping that offensive rhetorical question to herself, and her equally offensive attempt to justify herself, she could have had the common decency to be kind about the sign.

I’m not sure how this happens, but people forget that statements they make are offensive, even if it’s off-handedly or even if you think you know you’re right. These statements are offensive because sometimes, you aren’t right, sometimes you’re completely wrong about the situation. The woman who commented about my boyfriend parking in a handicap spot is completely ignorant to his medical history. She’s ignorant of the amount of doctors he’s had to visit, the amount of X Rays he’s had, the amount of times he’s had to think about getting another surgery or trying a different method. She’s ignorant to his life because she does not know him, she knows nothing about him. But she still felt like she had the right to comment about his life. I wonder why people feel like they have a right to comment about a complete stranger’s life.Photo courtesy of Photopin

If you don’t know what someone has gone through in life, why would you presume to know anything about them? Why would you presume to think they’re a bad person, and since they don’t look physically handicapped, then they must be exploiting the handicap sign? This made me think of all the times people have asked me rude and insensitive questions. I remember growing up and one of the most consistent questions was: do you eat cats and dogs? Because I'm Filipina or more broadly known as Asian, people think it's okay to ask me that because "they want to know more about my culture." Well, if you wanted to know more about my culture, next time make sure you know what my ethnicity is; be aware that just because I belong to the extremely broad category of Asian doesn't mean I'm the same as other Asians.  Ask what type of food I eat, not if I eat cats and dogs. I have two dogs and I love them both dearly, I'm not raising them like chickens and pigs so I can eat them later.  

As I continue to write this article, I’m getting back from eating pizza in honor of National Pizza Day. I went to a restaurant with my best friends and we witnessed the most immature group of friends we’ve ever seen. It was terrible and another example of insensitivity and rudeness. 

They weren’t that much younger than I am, they were probably 16 to 18 years old, but they acted like 5-year-olds. We were seated next to them and we saw them throwing food at each other. We ordered, waited for our appetizers and drinks, ordered our pizzas, and got our pizzas and throughout that 45 minute time period, the kids next to us were constantly throwing fries at each other.                                                                                                                                                   What the teenagers next to us used to "catch" the fries.

They treated it like it was a game and failed to realize the mess they were making. Not to mention they would dip their fries into ketchup before throwing it, so it would “stick.” They also had terrible aim, so the fries ended up landing on the seats, the floor, the back of the booth they were in, and all over the table. They were screaming at each other and at one point the whole restaurant essentially turned to look at them after a particularly loud shriek and once their group noticed, one of the girls shouted "I got dirty looks!" Well, yes, you did, I wonder why. 

Maybe it's because you're making a mess and everyone else except you and your friends know that you won't be cleaning up that mess. It'll be some poor, unfortunate soul who has to work for a living. This person has probably had a long day and an even longer night considering how busy the restaurant was, and the one thing this person probably asked for this evening was for all the customers to have the common courtesy to behave like civilized people. Maybe you got dirty looks because there are approximately 795 million people in the world who suffer from chronic undernourishment. And instead you have about four full plates of fries on the table and about another plate full all over your eating area.                                                                                                                                                           They also spilled water all over the floor. 

These kids finally left and their eating area was a mess, they didn't apologize to the waiter. They didn't even attempt cleaning up some of the stray fries they left between the cushions of the seat and the backing. As they were leaving, I continued to ask myself, why? Why do people act so carelessly? Why does it seem like there's a complete disregard for the people their actions would impact? I admit, I don't know their full story either. But I also can't logically explain why a group of five teenagers who look like they're old enough to make decisions without the guidance of an adult would treat a restaurant like it's a cliche food fight scene from a high school movie. As someone who's worked in retail, I know how disheartening it is to watch the area you just fixed be ravaged and left a mess. I know what it's like to watch people destroy your hard work and the dread you feel when you know you have to go back to that same area and do it all over again. Which is why whenever I go to stores I put items back where they belong. If I go through a pile of clothes, I do so gently, and I fold the clothes I don't want properly and put them back. When I go to restaurants I try to be patient and understanding, I make sure to say thank you every time the waiter or waitress comes by.

The point of both of these stories is to show that sometimes our words and actions can hurt more than we think they do. Sometimes we think we're being clever, but in reality, we're insulting someone. Sometimes we think we have the right to call someone out, but we may not know the whole story. So don't make comments about people if you don't know the full story or any part of their story. In both stories I was an observer to situations that shouldn't have happened in the first place. The woman from the mall didn't know how long it's taken my boyfriend to admit that a handicap sign would be helpful for him. He was an athlete in high school and still strives to be healthy and fit, but his back issues have prevented him from doing so. Don't remind him that he has it because I assure you the pain he feels reminds him that he needs it and the disappointment he feels when he can't exercise a certain way, or participate in his favorite sport reminds him exactly how much he hates having that handicap sign. Don't decide that a restaurant is the best place for a food fight when you aren't the one who has to clean the mess up after. I'm not saying to not stand up for what you believe is right. I encourage and support all of you to stand up for your beliefs and opinions. However, you can't completely and fully stand up for what's right if you haven't done enough research on the topic. So remember to just be kind, be thoughtful and think before you speak and act.

Kindness is always needed and gratitude is always appreciated. Just remember, the world can always use more of both. Don't go to stores and restaurants and disregard the people who work there because trust me, they are getting paid, but they're still human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. 

Photos from the restaurant courtesy of the author.