Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Server Class

When President Richard Nixon addressed the White House staff for the last time on August 9, 1974, he rambled on about many things, including the saintliness of his devoted mother, the industriousness of his hapless father, and the greatness of one of his predecessors, Teddy Roosevelt. Nixon affectionately referred to the latter as “TR.” But what I long ago plucked from the embers of this uncharacteristically emotional and philosophical goodbye was the moving tribute paid to the little people—i.e., those who do so very much and get so very little recognition for doing it. While the former president was hopelessly devious, and his crimes inexcusable, he apparently appreciated men and women in typically thankless, but absolutely essential jobs.

As one who toiled on the retail frontlines for many years, I have always felt that an individual’s core character is largely exposed in how he or she interacts with “those who serve,” as Nixon labeled society’s sprawling server class. When I go out to eat, for instance, I am very conscious of the help and how they are being treated. When in the company of others, I have been embarrassed—even mortified—on occasion by some totally uncalled for and very inappropriate behavior. I know a few high-minded sorts who give perpetual and self-serving lip service to the plight of the server class, if you will, but who, while out and about in the bright light of day, superiorly lord over them. The contempt they exhibit for those who—foremost—don’t know their places, and who do not very precisely serve as they think they should serve, is palpable. And I’m referring here to members of the server class who conscientiously do their jobs, not the jerks and oafs (who I know are legion, too—but that’s another kettle of fish).

Yes, I believe that you can learn an awful lot about your fellow world travelers by observing how they treat “those who serve.” It’s a window into all of our souls. And bear in mind that this band of our brothers and sisters in the server class accommodates more than waiters and waitresses, but painters and plumbers, too, retail store employees all, etc., etc. Both in my capacity as server, and spectator outside of the trenches, I’ve caught glimpses of humankind's many hues.

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