Have you ever been in a situation where the people around you were behaving so badly that your stomach acids started bubbling up and you felt like they might just eat through your abdomen? The kind of situation where you knew, in your gut, that you had to speak up and call someone out for their awful behavior.
Well, that’s the situation Dave and I found ourselves in last weekend.
Here’s how it went down… We went to our favorite local Japanese restaurant to grab a quick bite; and as it usually happens when we eat at the hibachi table without our kids, we got randomly seated with a bunch of perfect strangers. Happens all the time and usually works out just fine. Usually.
In this particular case we ended up sitting with a group of seven other people out celebrating their grandmother’s birthday. There were a couple of kids, a couple of couples, and the grandmother. Pretty harmless. At least on the surface.
The first red flag should’ve been when the woman sitting next to us apologized, in advance, for how loud and obnoxious her family was likely to be. She said they had the tendency to get pretty rowdy when they were all out together. But as a family who spends most of our time laughing and messing with each other, we didn’t think much of the warning. We learned pretty quickly, though, that she was dead serious. These people were like their own traveling sideshow. And not the fun kind.
A handful of Mai Tais and Scorpion Bowls later and they had all but drowned out the voices of everyone else in the restaurant—cheering and yelling across the table like they were at a Texas rodeo. But that wasn’t even the problem. The problem was when they started hassling our hibachi chef about what his real name was. They insisted, that just because he was Japanese with an American name on his nametag, he must have an authentic Japanese name. Because all of you people have a real fancy long name, right?! That’s when my stomach acids hit boil.
The chef, with his infinite patience and kind spirit, just smiled it off. Even when they threw money at him to tell them his real name and tossed out ludicrous, offensive guesses of what it probably was. Needless to say, everyone within earshot was horrified. And that was the exact moment when I should’ve said something. Wanted to say something. Was literally biting through my own tongue, desperate to say something. But I hesitated because there was a birthday party at the adjacent table and it was filled with young girls. And to confront someone who’s clearly drunk, disorderly, and ignorant is like sailing into a category five hurricane—it would’ve been a catastrophic mistake.
But I should’ve led with my gut like my friend Amy did. (Coincidentally, she happened to be sitting directly behind the couple doing the insulting.) She had turned, got up, and whispered into the woman’s ear. She told her that whether she realized it or not, she was being a racist and making everyone in the room uncomfortable. Needless to say, it got ugly. But fortunately for everyone in the room, it resolved quickly once more of us started speaking up. And even though I did ultimately tell her to dial it down because her behavior was totally out of line, I should’ve done it sooner. Because witnessing someone behaving badly and letting it go is almost as bad as doing it yourself. And here’s why…
…our silence can equal approval.
…the greater good should be the priority.
…when we speak up it shows that we care.
…other people may not know what’s happening.
…we’re probably not the only ones who feel this way.
Dave said it best when we talked about things later that night—it’s people being too passive and not speaking up that’s caused some of the darkest moments in the history of mankind. (Yes, Adolf, I’m talking about you.)
So what I’m getting at is that we need to say something. We have to intervene. It’s our obligation to speak up. If not for ourselves, then for the people around us. For the children around us. Even if it’s uncomfortable.
Look, I get it, most people’s instinct is to lay low in awkward social situations. No one wants to be That Person who calls attention to themselves or makes a scene. But the reality is, sometimes we just have to. Sometimes a person’s bad behavior simply can’t be ignored. And whether or not our intervention changes the outcome, it’s still our responsibility to try and affect change.
And all of this is especially important for us parents. Because we need to set an example for our kids—for all kids. They need to see us putting our money where our mouth is. Because how can we possibly raise a generation that will speak up and question things that don’t feel right if we’re not willing to do the same?
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/itIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.