A Hope for Humanity : Our Social Responsibility
I am not an authority on most anything, but I do have lots of feelings and opinions about lots of things. I would like to remind you that it is your choice to be on this website, reading these words. You may stop at any time and walk away. You may disagree with me quietly, loudly, calmly, or violently (not preferred). You may also email me, always, at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can figure out a time to meet for a coffee or converse over the inter webs. Here we go.
I am sad. I am sad that my lack of understanding of how unhappy most of my country-people are has led me to a state of shock about the state of my country and, in turn, my world. I feel small minded and naive, and, like most of us, am looking for a way to cope.
I have always found solace in coffee. The ritual and routine of it eases my mornings, and the caffeine eases my physical aches. However, it is not these rituals or physical necessities that bring me the most joy. The things that bring me the most joy are these moments:
A woman came into Amethyst one day. She was middle aged and slightly fidgety, and we had a kind of strange interaction. She finally decided on a black coffee and sat down. I brought it over to her table and she revealed the reason for her indecision and nervous energy (I’m paraphrasing):
‘May I ask you something?’ she asked as I was about to walk away.
‘Sure,’ I responded.
‘What kind of message do you think it sends to be drinking black coffee… I mean, I’m about to be on a first date. I don’t know. I don’t want to come off a certain way….’
‘Well, do you like black coffee?’
‘Then I think you come off as happy and confident, and you ordered what you like so you’re being honest and genuine, and the person you’re meeting will certainly see that in you,’ I responded slowly, not altogether sure what to say.
‘Yeah… you’re right! Thanks.’
A little while later, after we had a little rush, I was cleaning up and looking around to see if anyone needed anything. I noticed that the woman’s date had shown up, and that it was another middle-aged woman. I couldn’t tell how the date was going, but they were certainly engaged in conversation so from where I was standing it at least didn’t look like a total flop. They left when I was busy doing something else, and I was kind of sad I didn’t get to see them go. I wanted to see if they seemed like they were having fun. Oh, well, I was just being nosy, but it made me happy that they had chosen Amethyst for their first date. To me it meant that they felt safe going there and that one of them liked it and wanted to share it with the other, or they wanted to have a new experience together.
The second moment is my favorite online review of Amethyst. We have plenty of reviews that hurt me and break my heart, but this one was pretty great to hear:
’Dope vibes. The type of place vegan metal heads and yuppies can both enjoy.’
It’s my favorite sentiment, and I like the way it is expressed. Coffee shops are meant to be social spaces for everyone. They each have a chosen an aesthetic, and you certainly have to be willing and able to pay a little bit more for the coffee, but they are meant to be spaces for everyone to enjoy should they so choose. They are public spaces, even though that can be a really hard situation to navigate. As a fellow business owner once said to me after he watched me have a particularly trying encounter:
‘Don’t you love having a space that’s open to the public?’
At that moment, I did not love it, but usually I do. As baristas, bartenders, and hospitality workers we have a social responsibility. That responsibility includes making people feel welcome no matter what they look like, how they dress, which gender they identify with, or who they voted for in the latest election. It is our responsibility to speak out against injustice and mistreatment in our space, whether that mistreatment is directed at us or at someone else. It is our responsibility to create room for people to feel loved and respected, and there are ways to treat people with whom you not agree with love and respect. That has been our responsibility since the beginning of such establishments, and it is what we signed up for when we took these jobs.
I don’t see this as a burden, I see it as an opportunity. We are in a unique position as an industry to promote acceptance and love of all people on all sides of the bar. We provide a social meeting place, we are a working class, we have no reason to be biased or judgmental. We are an integral part of society that promotes human interaction in a world of computers. Sure, there will be days when everyone in the cafe is sitting alone with headphones in staring at a computer screen, but they had to go through you to get there and you had the opportunity to show them warmth. In this most important moment we can be a part of changing people’s interactions with each other for the better.
I would like to see some changes in the way Americans engage with one other. I would like to see people treated and spoken about with respect. I would like to see racist rhetoric be eliminated from our vocabulary. I would like to see jokes about sexual assault be taken more seriously. These are big changes, and we can be a HUGE part of making them stick because we talk to and set an example for thousands of people each week, tens to hundreds of thousands each year. In an industry where we have previously let a lot of these things fall by the way side, if we start (and continue) to be more conscious in our treatment of others, it will have a resounding effect on society.
We already know how good it feels to be able to give great service and help people start or end their day with a familiar smile and a tasty drink. We serve people of all demographics, though some more heavily than others based on location and what exactly it is that we serve (it’s not a perfect system, okay?). Treat them all with love. Let your guests see you treat your coworkers, your bosses, your delivery people, your landlords, and your neighbors with respect. Let your coworkers see you treat all of your guests with warmth. Engage rationally with each other and don't let people act out of hate. There will be moments when that love comes in the form of tough love, because YOU, as a human, also need to be treated with respect. Talk to your bosses about how they feel about how to engage with tricky people, but know that the trickiest people need the most love. Talk to your coworkers about their political/religious/social beliefs while NOT AT WORK so you can better understand them and better work with them.
I’ve learned that many people want the same thing, but they say it in different ways. Most people want an economic climate that allows them to be prosperous and provide for themselves and their family. They want a society where they feel heard and comfortable so that they can leave their house without fear. They want leaders who represent their ideals and values. We all have different belief systems, but we all want security in all forms, we all want to feel loved. We’ll never all agree on everything, but the sooner we start trying to listen to one another, the sooner we can potentially agree on more issues.
I hope that we can rise to the challenge. I hope that as a service industry we have the drive to use it to serve our people, our country, and the evolution of our humanity; not to only serve ourselves. If not, we will have wasted a huge opportunity to leaving this world better than we found it.