“Is he stupid or what?!” Aisha gasped.*
“I wonder if he’s even over 16,” chuckled Tanya as the nervous young waiter hurried back to the kitchen.
Six young women in their 20s, all cousins, at a restaurant in London. It was a typical girls’ night out.
All of the women were on their phones and in between swipes they would steal a few words of conversation with the others.
The waiter came back with the starters. An earnest young man, clean-cut with short hair, barely out of his teens.
“I ordered jerk chicken wings but you’ve brought jerk prawns!” Noreen exclaimed. “I want what I ordered… PLEASE.”
“I’m so sorry, madam,” the waiter said. “I do apologise. I will get your correct order straight away.”
“Jerk chicken?!” Noreen muttered out of earshot of the waiter. “I think the only jerk around here is him.”
All the women began to snigger. Except one.
“Guys, give it a break,” Maria said. “Maybe he’s had a difficult day? We don’t know what he’s going through.”
“Oooh look what we have here!” Tanya sneered. “Wonder woman samaritan acting all holy!”
“I’m just saying that we don’t know why he’s getting it wrong, that’s all,” Maria replied.
“Why can’t you just back everyone up for once?” Tanya shot back. “Why do you always have to be the black sheep, Maria?”
Most of the others nodded in agreement with Tanya. Two of the group appeared to agree with Maria but they were too afraid to speak up. Maria slunk away.
The rest of the evening continued in much the same manner. The nervous young waiter scurrying back and forth from the table to the kitchen as he kept making mistake after mistake.
The group of women sneering at the waiter, putting him under pressure and making him more nervous.
The final straw came when it was time to settle the bill. The group asked the waiter to split the bill six ways and put it onto six different debit cards.
Instead, he put it all on one card.
“That’s it!” Tanya said. “I’m going to complain to your manager. Please ask him to come and speak to me.”
“Madam, I am really sorry, I made a mistake,” the waiter remonstrated. “Please don’t tell my manager, I might lose my job.” He looked worried.
After the waiter walked back to the kitchen, Noreen commented, “Well, he deserves to lose his job over this. He’s a complete idiot, he hasn’t got anything right all evening.”
Maria was standing by the side when the manager came. One by one the women began to list all the things the waiter had done wrong. The manager was apologetic but he looked angry at what he was hearing.
All of a sudden, Maria walked up to the group speaking to the manager.
“Look, I just want to say that yes the waiter made a few mistakes but he was polite to us and apologised,” Maria told the manager. “We don’t know who he is, why he’s doing this job or what he is going through that made him keep messing up. He doesn’t deserve to lose his job over this.”
Maria’s words had the effect of throwing cool water over the manager’s anger.
“I was on the verge of firing him, but because of what you said, I’m going to give him another chance,” he replied to Maria.
But Maria’s intervention had the opposite effect on the rest of the group. They were livid with anger.
“You undermined us,” Tanya said to Maria.
“Who do you think you are?” joined in Aisha. “Do you think you are better than us?”
Maria began to feel uncomfortable so she made an excuse and left the group early. The group stopped talking to her after that.
Reflecting on this incident, Maria said,
“I did feel hurt at the time because I was ostracised as if I was the black sheep of the family.”
What would she say to someone who finds themselves in a similar situation where speaking up is unpopular?
“Always speak up if you see something unjust. Don’t worry about being the outcast. You don’t have to conform to injustice. Your integrity and principles are far more important than being popular.”
“But it was definitely worth it. Because I saved that waiter his job.”
“And I would hope that someone would do that for me if I was in the same situation.”
Can you share below any anecdotes where your unpopular intervention has helped someone?
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*The exact dialogues of this anecdote have been fictionalised but the facts of the story are true.