Monday, January 19, 2009

final assignment

The following essay is the final assignment for my writing class. The assignment? Write an essay.

Last year, ABC News did a feature called "What Would You Do?" The reporter, John Quinones, put real people in arranged situations to see how they'd react.

There was the girl in a restaurant seeing her best friend's fiance with another woman. There was the healthy 20-something girl parking in a handicap space. The mean girls scenario riled most people - women in particular. The black man yelling at and berating his girlfriend prompted only two women to come forward and offer help. Of all the scenarios, the ones involving race were disheartening. As I watched these scene replayed on Oprah, I had to ask myself: what would I do? As long as I wasn't putting myself in danger, I would speak up, I would offer help, I would do the right thing. Wouldn't I?

Every Sunday, I meet friends for brunch at Saddle Ranch. The staff know us and treat us well - part of the reason we go back every Sunday. The staff may know us, but that doesn't get us a table when there aren't enough waitresses. Sometimes, we have to wait.

Two weeks ago, I watched a man and his family push past the host - a young kid - and sit at the table next to us. The man was ranting about service while the woman and two tween-age girls just sat there. The man's ranting quickly became louder and more vicious as his remarks turned to personal attacks on the young host. The man was relentless with his comments, each ruder and cruder than the last. I was getting angrier with each comment. Until the girls chimed in. These two girls - not much older than 13 - made rude, inappropriate and downright mean comments about the host and his assumed (or is it presumed?) sexual orientation. I was offended and outraged. I was shaking. And I was silent.

I got up from the table and stomped to the bathroom. I was so upset with myself for not saying anything. Why was I so scared? What was there to be afraid of? I stood at the sink, breathless and breathing heavily at the same time. I stared at myself in the mirror - what if those comments were about race instead of sexual orientation? What if he'd have said "Nigger" instead of "Faggot" - would I have said something then? What if those comments were directed at me instead of that kid? Would someone speak up for me? Would someone be as livid and speak out?

I thought I would. I thought I could. I didn't.

I felt sick and sad for several days after. But I wasn't so sure who was worse - the man or me.

John Quinones said "Our lives begin to end when we stay silent about things that matter."

What would you do?


Diana said...

That's a tough one! I think everyone thinks that they would do the right thing in that situation, but it's so much harder when it's really happening. I don't know what I would do, but I may be more likely to speak up in a restaurant since I have personal experience in that arena. I waited tables for a long time and you can see the worst of people there. I've had a few people who were so rude they made me cry. I had a whole table that was so rude that a woman with her daughter approached me (away from the table) to say that she was "sorry for that table".

Thanks for the insightful post!

The CDP. said...

Thanks for being brave enough to make public this self-study, and admit that it's sometimes supremely difficult to take a stand.

Courage in these situations is always tricky, because you never know when it officially becomes your business. I feel this way all the time whenever I see a parent berating a child at the supermarket.

This is really no way to live, but I find that I'm far more apt to step in and do the noble thing when I've been drinking and feel like everything is my business. Goes to show just how difficult something like this is.