Hot coffee and hot tempers

coffee, civil discourse, divisiveness

My son watched a customer throw hot coffee at a barista yesterday because she asked him to wear a mask the next time he came inside the store. 

He shouted at her, threw his drink at her, and then cursed as two customers forced him out of the store.

Without hearing any more details, you might already have made a decision about this situation:

  • There’s very little data to suggest that masks truly make a difference so we shouldn’t be required to wear them.
  • The company shouldn’t require its employees to enforce the mask issue with customers. 
  • The customer should just drive through next time if he doesn’t want to wear a mask.

But none of that is the point. 

We are allowing a growing political divide to degrade our humanity. Instead of clinging to a standard of decency and kindness, we’re allowing our political differences to justify our continued bad behavior. 

Consider this: if someone you care about is on the receiving end of a hot cup of coffee, will the events that led up to it really be your biggest concern?

I taught middle school in an urban school in the late 90s when a discussion broke out about the murder of Selena Quintanilla Perez, a Latina singer who was killed by the head of her fan club. Some of the students in class made light of the fact that the president of the fan club killed the singer, which understandably angered the students who were her fans.

In a sort of verbal retaliation, the Selena fans brought up the fatal shooting of Tupac Shakur, a hip hop artist who died after he was struck by four bullets in a drive-by shooting. As you might expect, the Tupac fans were angry at the thought that someone was making light of his death.

It was a great opportunity to teach empathy and compassion to a group of middle school students in a context that meant something to them. It gave them a chance to understand the perspective of the people on the other side.

We have that opportunity again now. We have a chance to reframe divisive conversations around empathy and compassion for each other, regardless of our differences. We have a chance to try to understand the people on the other side of the discussion.

But someone has to go first.

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