Last week you probably heard about Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who had a public meltdown after a stressful flight. The debacle included Slater firing off a round of obscenities, grabbing a couple of beers and sliding down the emergency slide. Since then, it’s come to light that Slater may have been pulling some kind of publicity stunt in search of reality TV fame. But in “What We Learned from the JetBlue Guy,” Adam Smith tells us why the public resonated so much with Slater’s story:
Even if the entire story was a fabrication, we so deeply wanted it to be true. Slater was the personified wish fulfillment of anyone who’s ever worked in the service industry and been at the wrong end of ill-tempered customers. He did what all of us have dreamt of, and he did it with a panache few of us could probably even cook up in our wildest fantasies.
Someone once told me everyone should work in the service industry at some point in his life. It gives you the ability to understand the plight of those who serve. But even if you’ve served a mile in their sturdy black shoes, why is it so easy to become indignant when you receive bad service? The answer is simple, says Smith: pride. Deep down, we all feel like were a little more special and deserving than the next guy. But treating poorly those who serve us has deeper implications:
Here’s a sweeping statement that I have no trouble standing by: If you’re nice to your friends, but a jerk to the guy who got your coffee order wrong at Starbucks, you’re actually just a jerk. The way we treat people the world would see as beneath us reveals our character. Moreover, rudeness, impatience and intolerance toward the people serving us isn’t just a minor character flaw. It’s a flat-out sin.
My husband, who used to work at Starbucks, would agree. A steady flow of local pastors frequented his store. And he could gauge the health of a church based on how its pastors treated the baristas. He also cringed to hear the chatter among workers after they had encountered a “jerky Christian.” Smith continues:
It may sound elementary, but the people serving us are humans. They have goals, hobbies, loved ones, stresses, fears and, most importantly, feelings. It may be hard to swallow, but many of them are also smarter, more competent and nicer than us. When we’re wronged, or treated without sensitivity or consideration, it wrecks us. The person behind the counter at McDonald’s is no different. As anyone who has worked in the service industry can tell you, one terrible encounter with a customer can ruin an entire day. God forbid that encounter come at the hands of someone who professes to be a Christian.
So Steven Slater may be a phony, but that kinship customer servants everywhere feel to him reveals something important: People are prone to treating those who serve as second-rate citizens. But in God’s world, no one is second-rate. As followers of Christ, we need to consistently proclaim that message. Our role is to remind people that they are infinitely valuable. So valuable that Christ died for them. That’s the kind of attitude that makes a difference.