A certain topic has been popping up over and over in my life this week. Kind of the opposite of customer service–maybe you could call it employee service, but I prefer calling it don’t be a jerk.

At work the other night, two other girls and I were discussing how some customers are simply not nice.

On Facebook the next day, a friend shared a someone else’s status about how it’s a decent idea to treat food service workers like human beings. She caught hell for it.

And tonight, I came across a writing prompt: tell how customers like to be treated in a store.

Everyone knows how customers like to be treated in a store. We all know this because we’re all customers at some point. A more pertinent topic would be how the service industry would like to be treated.

Guess what? The answer is the same.

The problem is that the general public does not understand this.

The problem is that old adage, the customer is always right.It’s been drilled into our head so well that it’s become a given when it shouldn’t be.

Have you seen Mallrats? They got it much closer to right. The customer is always an asshole.

While it’s true that the customer isn’t always an asshole, it’s usually a safe bet. People say and do all sorts of things to customer service representatives that they’d never, ever say or do in so-called polite company. Here’s an anecdote.

When I was managing a quick service restaurant, I had a customer picking up his order in the drive thru. He couldn’t figure out how to separate the credit card receipts, so I held my hand out to take them, rubbed them together to separate, and handed him his copy. His response? Ha, I guess I’m just too smart to figure that out! The implication was clear. I was an idiot for working in food service while he brought his dinner home in his luxury car.

And that was just a mild annoyance.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told by a customer that the customer is always right. Another anecdote? Sure.

Same restaurant, same drive thru. This one was a regular customer well-known for his unpleasantness; so well-known that a manager automatically dealt with him, to save time. I took his twenty, gave him his food, and gave him his change. He pulled around to the front, parked, and came in to scream at me for not giving him his change. The change that was still in his left hand. I pointed out the bills poking out of his fist, and he informed me that he’d already had this money, and I hadn’t given him any change. The lobby full of customers was appalled at his behavior, but the rest of my team took it in stride–as I said, well-known for his unpleasantness. Finally, I agreed to give him more change just to get him out. Fifteen minutes later his wife called to let me know he was on his way back to my store to return the extra money. He didn’t say a word this time. Bless his wife’s heart, though.

The customer is not always right, but the employee who has to deal with him is always a living, breathing, human being.

The reason for the magnetically locked doors in the emergency room I worked at was not to protect the innocents in the waiting room from the bloody messes in the trauma rooms. It was to protect the staff from impatient patients and/or visitors. The customers, if you will.

The reason for the screening process at the blood center I worked at was not to inconvenience donors. It was to protect the blood supply from unnecessary risks. Don’t just hop in the chair and say you don’t have time for all those questions when you’ve traveled to a malaria risk area in the past six months.

Ask any delivery driver who tips the best. It’s not the people who can afford it. It’s the people who also work for piddly wages. The major exception the rule is the person who worked his way through college and graduate school by tending bar or waiting tables and hasn’t forgotten what it’s like.

The worst excuse I’ve heard for this behavior has been if you don’t like it, get a better job. The implication of this being that a decent human being couldn’t possibly be willing to work for minimum wage, which is patently untrue. It’s an even worse excuse when it comes from the mouth of a person who has nothing but scorn for anyone on government assistance. I don’t get that at all; it’s not okay to seek aid when unemployed, but it’s also not okay to be employed if the job isn’t good enough?

Tyler Durden said it best.

We cook your meals. We haul your trash. We connect your calls. We drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not  fuck with us.

This attitude of superiority has only become less tolerable with the prevalence of electronic communication. If I can type, and I can spell, I’m the equal of anyone until I let slip an opinion like–well, like this one. I can have a conversation online with a middle-aged, middle class woman who’s never worked a day in her life and spends her afternoons getting her tips frosted and her nails filled, and we’d be just fine chatting about the weather. But if I find out who she is and let her know that I remember her for always ordering fifty dollars’ worth of food and never tipping the driver, I lose my claim to humanity. Because it’s dirty to provide a common service, and it’s disgusting to actually enjoy it.

I got off work early one day for a friend’s baby shower. Her mother answered the door and tried to send me away because she didn’t look at me. She thought I was trying to deliver pizza because I was still in my uniform. Even though my hands held not a hot bag but a wrapped gift, she couldn’t see past the logo to recognize me.

Real life is what makes Pretty in Pink a pipe dream. And it’s not that us poor people are so open-minded; the animosity extends both ways. The difference is that a poor person will, for the most part, give a rich person the benefit of the doubt until they prove their bias. The wealthy automatically scorn the poor. Not because of who they are, but because of what they are. And that’s a load of crap.

We’re all people. Sometimes the customer is right. Sometimes the employee is right. Sometimes everybody’s an asshole.

Maybe Horton Hears a Who should be daily required reading for everyone.

Just don’t be a jerk.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice

I’ve always been so afraid of people not liking me. I’ve always been scared of not fitting in. I was never the one to speak up when something wasn’t right. I was so painfully shy and the whole world was so big and scary and mean.

Last year I lost a job along with a friend of mine because we dared to say something wasn’t right. I still joke and call her ‘whistleblower’ every now and then. That was a good job, but it wasn’t worth the price our supervisor was asking us to pay, our integrity. Since then, I have tried harder than I ever have in my life to do the right thing.

Cliche, I know.

But I want to stick up for the little guy. Because I know that I’m a lot stronger than I ever believed I was. Because I know what it’s like to sit idly by while others judge and degrade and just treat other people badly. I know what it’s like to feel too paralyzed to say anything. And I know what it’s like to feel guilty afterward, knowing that I could have said something, knowing that I could have smoothed things over, knowing that I could have done anything besides just let it happen.

I like to tell myself that’s a good thing, that it’s admirable, because I know I would have looked up to someone able to do that when I couldn’t bring myself to. What can I say? There will always be that shred of doubt deep inside me, that little voice whispering don’t even try, you can’t do anything right anyway, you’re wasting your time. I don’t have to listen, but the whisper’s always there.

So I fight it.

When I see someone struggling, I want to help them, especially when it’s an emotional load that’s just too heavy. Or when it’s an unpopular opinion, but still an opinion that isn’t hurting anyone else.

It doesn’t matter how you candy-coat it, beating someone down is beating someone down. You can dress it up all you like with your ‘buts’ and your ‘sorrys’ and your ‘I don’t mean any harms,’ but if you really didn’t mean any harm, you would have kept your fool mouth shut. If you really wanted to offer sympathy, you wouldn’t dress up ‘you deserve this’ with a pretty little bow of fake commiseration. If you really wanted to show you cared, you wouldn’t try to one-up someone’s suffering.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to feel that someone deserves what they get, or that it’s wrong to think they’re just being a baby because you’ve been through worse. I’m saying it’s a pretty crappy thing to tell someone in their darkest hour that they shouldn’t have done something, or to buck up, you’ve had it worse.

Just keep it to yourself.

Nobody needs their pain belittled by someone outside the situation. Let it go.