Life Lessons at Lunch

Recently, I was out with a group of people for a very nondescript, standard meeting over lunch. Or, so I thought. Much to my surprise, it ended up being an occasion that I expect I’ll remember for a long time.

As our group settled into the space at the table, our server came over to welcome us and take our drink order. His voice was loud, he smelled of cigarette smoke, and he lingered just a little too long at the table in an effort to build rapport and appear friendly before moving on. I’m sure you can relate – you’ve likely had an experience similar to the one I’m describing. My first impression of him was that he was a little “unpolished” as a server; perhaps new to the role and lacking some confidence and yet doing his best to be of service and do well.

As the interactions with the server continued through lunch orders, additional drink orders and check-ins, the level of irritation among my companions grew higher and stronger. When he would leave, the talk at our table turned nastily to mockery and insults.

Each time the server came to visit, several people at the table would not meet his eye, would not respond at all to his questions and in fact, one person even physically turned her body away and covered her ears from the waiter when he approached as a signal that she did not want him to be near her. I saw the look in his eye when that happened – he didn’t know what to do, there was embarrassment and confusion and shame and he quickly left the table.

It felt awful to be a witness. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to leave. It felt gross.

I observed this and while I didn’t actively participate in the repartee, I did nothing to change it. And for that, I still feel disappointed. And I also have compassion for myself that I was in the unfolding of a very important lesson.

Let’s compare that story to another one.

A while ago, I attended a conference with my colleagues, mentors and teachers. It was an inspiring time filled with great conversation, learning and a strong sense of community and support. Lunch times and dinner times were always an exciting mix of people, different groups would meet for each meal to discuss and share wisdom from the day. Amazing.

One morning, one of my colleagues reported on their experience from dinner the night before. He said that while the service in the restaurant was slower than they’d liked, they hadn’t allowed that to define their experience. In fact, one person at the table invited the rest of the group to begin sharing appreciations with each other. Each person taking a moment to gift a spoken appreciation to everyone around the table. Wow. They said it was a fascinating a deeply uplifting exercise. What’s more – when their waitress approached the table, likely with another update on how long their food orders were going to take, they asked her to stay with them for a few moments while everyone at the table spoke an appreciation to her.

By all reports, this server was brought to tears – absolutely overjoyed and stunned. She admitted that she had never, ever been given such praise or positive attention from a table of customers. In fact, she couldn’t even remember having been offered such beautiful words, ever. Everyone at the table felt inspired and happy and despite waiting longer for their food, they enjoyed their evening and the interchange of meaningful dialogue.

What happens to you as you read these drastically different stories? As I write them, I feel different. The first one left me feeling heavy and the deep disappointment remains in my heart. It doesn’t feel good to recall that experience. When I write the second story, I feel warm and happy and light.

I can’t help but wonder what it could have been like to spot the discord that day at my lunch meeting and actively take steps to shift the energy at the table. To refocus us in some way toward something positive and worthy of appreciation.

Dewitt Jones, former National Geographic photographer, created a video called Celebrate What’s Right in the World – underscoring the idea that when we purposefully look for the good, we will revel in the abundance.

We have to build awareness and a practice for this. We are so attuned to see what’s wrong, to pick out the bad, focus on what’s lacking and criticize the ugly…otherwise known as “deficit thinking”.

What if we each looked for what’s right, what’s going well, what we’re fortunate to have, see and do? What if we lived more and more from “surplus thinking”?

From a self-care perspective, it feels way more self-loving to act with kindness, with generosity and to act from a mood of gratitude. I felt the difference that day at lunch when I didn’t intervene and it was enough to have me commit to doing it differently when I feel that same surge of “yuckiness” in my belly.

I’m committing to taking care of my own energy so that it can help to move or shift the energy in the collective. I may not always be successful at it, and that doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that I take a stand for what I care about – and that is to be well, to live with ease and to spread more love and kindness in the world.

May we all be loving and gentle with ourselves and appreciate the learning that these moments offer us.

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