“Guys? If I sit outside, can I still have a coffee? I’ll put it into a to-go cup—“
“Na, you can come in. We like you.”
I stepped inside the back door of my favorite coffee shop, ignoring the CLOSED – SYSTEM DOWN sign taped to the window. I threw my bag down on my favorite corner seat and walked to the counter. It was 7:30AM and the entire place was empty. The coffee shop is never empty.
Two of my favorite baristas (I say that, but there is truly not a single worker I don’t like) were working. Mark was hunched over the iPad talking on his cell to tech support, and Lu poured me a cup of coffee.
“You want a breakfast bar?” she said.
“Fuck yea I do,” I said. Then I sat down with my free coffee, my free treat, in a coffee shop all to myself. This is the kind of stuff dreams are made of, people.
The baristas who work in my coffee shop work really, really hard. The line often stretches to the door by 9AM, and on the weekends it’s so packed I can’t even stand to be in there. Most of the baristas work two or three jobs, or go to school between espresso pours. Lu lifts so many trays and makes so many lattes, she wraps her wrists to keep the inflammation down.
Although the place was closed and I was the lone customer, Lu swept the floors, washed the already-clean tables, and restocked the pastries in the time I sat there. “At least we closed before people got here,” she said. “Last time, customers were so angry! And we gave everything away for free. People are so funny—you give them something and they just want more. They say, ‘But why don’t you give me this?’”
Lu is from Eritrea, which is above Ethiopia for those of you who didn’t know (I sure as hell didn’t). She is basically the sweetest person ever. “If I heard someone snap at you,” I said, “I would cut a bitch.”
She stopped sweeping for two seconds to look up at me. “Did I tell you that a lady threw a tea bag at me the other day??” she said. “I poured the hot water and lay the tea bag beside it—that’s what we’re taught to do. And she grabbed it and THREW it at me and screamed, ‘Do it right!!’”
I swear to God, I saw red.
I don’t know where shitty people come from, or why they exist, but they do.
Last fall, I was fortunate enough to hear Melinda Gates speak at Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce.com conference in San Francisco.
Now, given the fact that you’re speaking at the largest software conference on Earth, you were one of the first female hires at the largest PC software company (again, on Earth), and married the co-founder of that company, you’d think she’d want to talk about… Idk…software? Na. She brushed over her love of coding before moving on to bigger things.
The thing Melinda Gates spoke on most—and the one thing I will never forget—was this:
Every life has equal value.
I never heard that before. Rights, discrimination, equal opportunity, equal pay—those things I hear all the time. For crying out loud, I live in Washington, DC. But those issues generalize people into groups. They argue each group of people should have the same rights and access as other groups. Never had I heard anyone talk about the individual. Or put it so simply.
To say every person has equal value is to say you should treat each human being with the same level of respect.
As in, you should treat the person pouring your coffee with the same decency as you would your CEO.
It blows my mind, actually, to think it’s 2017 and some individuals still think certain people are beneath them. That because they have a certain last name, job title, or number of zeros behind their bank account; some higher power gave them a free pass to speak down to those around them. And since they place a higher value on their own personal worth, they somehow don’t have to subscribe to the general laws of human decency.
In all likelihood, these unfortunate people don’t want to level the playing field. I’m not sure what gratification they get from it. For whatever reason, they don’t want to dilute their value by realizing the person driving their Uber holds equal worth.
We can all name one person who seeks validation and prestige by putting others down.
I guess they get a high from it?
I would love to say a person’s perceived worth is the lump sum of their kindness and generosity, but we all know it is not. Or that those small-minded people will get whatever’s coming to them, but they won’t.
But we can all collectively agree: They are assholes.
The only way to not give way to an asshole is to not become one yourself. Step by for people on the street. Point the lost tourist in the right direction. Don’t dump your work on the shy girl at the office. Tip your servers. Don’t walk out early. Save your F bombs for positive use only.
And, you asshole, don’t throw tea bags.