One piece of writing that changed the way I thought is Seth Godin’s “Why Are We Willing To Tolerate Bullies?” essay in Fast Company issue number 41. If you have not read that essay, I commend it to your attention.
That essay is the first thing I thought of when I read this entry in the “Diner’s Journal” blog at the NYT: “Why I Got Kicked Out of a Restaurant on Saturday Night” by Ron Lieber. The short version: Mr. Lieber and his party sat down to dine, and were treated to the chef loudly berating one of his staff members. After this went on for a while, Mr. Lieber went into the kitchen and informed the chef that he was disrupting the dining experience, as well as being a bully, and asked the chef to stop. The chef responded by asking Mr. Lieber and his party to leave.
My reaction is that Mr. Lieber did the right and noble thing; he stood up to a bully. I would expect people to be backing him up. Instead, many of the comments at the NYT site seem to take the chef’s side, talking about the kitchen being “sacred” space, or making Gordon Ramsey comparisons.
The kitchen is sacred space, and Mr. Lieber shouldn’t have entered? No, not when I’m paying for the dining experience, and you’re disrupting it. Once what goes on in your “sacred space” overlaps into my space, you’ve lost any right you have to privacy.
Yes, kitchens are rough places to work, as Anthony Bourdain will tell you. But he’s also made it clear that there’s a difference between normal kitchen behavior, where people blow up at each other and get over it in a few minutes, and this kind of pathological yelling at staff.
Gordon Ramsey does it? Maybe he does; all most of us have seen is his TV persona, and I’ve seen damn little of that. I’ll tell you something else about Gordon Ramsey, though. Bourdain tells a story about what happened when Ramsey quit one of the restaurants he was working in; the entire staff quit. Not just the back-of-the-house kitchen staff who were closest to Ramsey, but the entire front of the house staff as well. Can you inspire that kind of loyalty in your staff? Then maybe you can get away with yelling at them like Ramsey.
When we tolerate bullying behavior, even if it’s just putting up with a chef yelling in a restaurant, we’re moving down a slippery slope. One day, it’s just someone yelling at his staff. But tolerate that long enough, and eventually you’re tolerating prosecutors and judges trying to railroad innocent defendants. At some point, we need to draw a line and stand up to the bullies. And we need to backstop each other when we do.
Well done, Mr. Lieber. Shame on you, Marc Forgione.
(Hattip: Mom for the NYT article. Popehat has the best short summary I’ve found of the Tonya Craft trial, with plenty of links to other coverage. Reason’s “Hit and Run” blog has been on the case as well.)