Starbucks, Theta Tau…. Who Art Thou?

I know I need to stop turning on the news, but I want to see what’s happening, and so I watch. Like turning to look at a bad accident on the highway, you know it’s wrong, but you do it anyway. Seems there’ve been more wrongs than rights in the news of late, and it’s getting to me, leaving behind unsettling, unanswerable questions.

Do we even know what wrong looks like anymore?

I can’t imagine that some of us were born separatists who from the get go spread evil, fear, and injustice. It’s the age-old nurture nature debate, but just how do closed-minded beer funneling, latte serving elitists evolve? Do we even know what wrong looks like anymore, assuming we once did? Maybe we’re bored outcasts who need attention but can’t figure out how or where we fit in. Or some of us are just bad people who don’t know better. Should we be blessing our own hearts?

Show me the benefits of ridiculing others — people of color, different religions, mentally challenged or a different sexual orientation — because I can’t see any. Maybe it’s an addictive high you get from onlookers’ laughs that helps you feel you belong, from putting people down so your own status can rise, or scoring friends from daring to go too far, shaming people and mimicking the most vulnerable. Surely you didn’t know what you were doing, someone put you up to it, it was the alcohol, the moment, it wasn’t really wrong. Was it?

Mean people suck. Always have, always will.

Wake up, Syracuse frat boys, it’s time to sober up and be accountable. Look at the chances and choices laid out before you, and then look at others’. They want what you want — a job, a family, security, health, a home and friends – and they want to be happy, but lucky for them they don’t have what you have — the bias, the sense of entitlement, the dispiriting lack of curiosity. They may not know it yet, but in many ways they’re rich from the bits they get, which they savor and, I’m guessing, share. How about you, other than laughs at others’ expense, what do you share? As for the Philly Starbucks manager, was it fear that made you call the police, hoping they’d rescue you from your own prejudices and suspicions? When they came running, did it work? Is it over or are you still scared?

You who poke and prod at society’s most defenseless and then smirking, star in your own social media film, are you just misfits, starved of courage? As you look around for a clean napkin to blot the cappuccino foam from your lip, have you given any thought to where you’re going or what kind of person you want to be? When the barista goes home, the beer runs out, when the party’s over and the guys crash, when the girl moves on and it’s just you standing there, what will you do then? Is it really 2018? Certain we’ve moved farther than this by now. Wake me up when the storm has passed.

Life defined is the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body. Is there no more life in Greek life if some of its members appear so void of it, so dysfunctional? It’s not about tolerance, but inclusivity, not because your campus or workplace says so, but because somewhere deep down, you want it, know it’s right, and learned it long ago. Or maybe you should have. It’s instinctive, it’s decent, but has to be regarded important enough to live it.

What happens when bad news breaks and campus and coffee shop ratings plunge? You enroll in unconscious bias training, of course. That people must un-learn their own biases should tell us something’s not getting done at home, we aren’t being taught the things we should. Calling the cops in two minutes because two black men are waiting in your coffee shop isn’t just unwarranted, it’s outrageous. It’s fear rearing its ugly head. Again. A toxic culture has been brewing, and Starbuck’s isn’t the only place you’ll find it.

What are we afraid of? What were these black men going to do to you or to your customers, or maybe it was your image at risk. Did they have guns, threaten people, or did they do the unthinkable, park their black bodies in your chairs as they sat and waited. Did they look in your eyes like they didn’t belong, or did you first look in theirs and think that? Was the color of their skin all you needed to make that call?

Can this fear be trained out of you?

I’m afraid tolerance alone doesn’t cut it. We’d be wise to stop doling out A+s for human decency that should instead garner a B/B+ at best. Let’s aim higher and no, I’m not talking about firearms. I’m tired of bad behavior filling the news and the occasional acts of kindness applauded at a level as if no one has seen the likes of them before.

I’m referring to a national news segment on a man from my own state getting out of his car during rush hour to help an elderly gentleman with a walker cross the road. While I commend this Good Samaritan for being generous, I’d like to think there are others who would’ve done the same. What if you saw a frail individual like this? Would you stop or just go around him as if you were dodging a pothole? Maybe you’d turn up your music and miss the opportunity entirely. We’re all trying to cross the busy street and get somewhere and on any given day, one of us sure could use a hand. It’s not a story. It’s kindness.

Is it possible the focus on labelling and categorizing each other will one day give way to encouragement, service and support? That this single story of someone helping someone else is such a rare find, something we still talk about weeks later, tells me we’re focused on the wrong stuff, the sensational crap on TV at dinner, sexy sound bites to accompany our own. What if we stopped and reset. There are no do-overs, but there is today and tomorrow and the next.

Mean people suck, always have, always will. With enough practice, this cycle could break across generations, within cultures, on campuses and at work, in homes and places of worship, and we could stop separating ourselves from each other and choose to collectively do more good. We are equals on this earth, different but equally worthy and of worth. It’s a privilege to be connected here on this planet and if we can put down our biases, weapons and fears, maybe that’ll free up a hand for lifting each other up. It’s not all Greek to me. You?

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