It’s Good to Be the Bad Guy

Thank you to Michelle Belsey, High5’s Chief Officer of GSH, for this week’s contribution!

This last weekend I attended an event called Chicago Gourmet. It was a weekend-long extravaganza for foodies that also included a plethora of wines and spirits. It was an amazing experience that I will happily repeat! Interestingly, in addition to all the wonderful new knowledge I acquired about food and drink, I learned a valuable life lesson.

My fiancé, Kevin, and I decided to attend the final seminar of the weekend. The high-demand seminar was indoors with air conditioning, and that was important because Chicago had record-breaking heat last weekend. Also, the room had limited capacity of about 40 people. Because of these factors, many of us were in line roughly 35 minutes prior to the start time. The person coordinating logistics for the event came out periodically to count us and lay down the rules about entering the seminar. The most crucial rule was that if you weren’t in line right now, you weren’t in line. So, all the people who were holding space for their friends were disgruntled because those missing friends were relegated to the back of it.

Shortly after that announcement, people straggled into spots near the front of the line. With the limited capacity, that meant people who had been in line the entire time were no longer going to get into the seminar. I was really bothered by that. As I thought about why, I realized it was simply about fairness. I was always in a position to get in, so I wasn’t concerned about me. I was focused on the people behind me.

Was this life and death? Was the course of anyone’s life path going to be tragically altered because they didn’t do the champagne and caviar tasting? No. However, I hear so much from other adults about the thoughtlessness of humans today, and yet, many people are willing to take the shortcut and the easy route even if it involves pushing other people out of the way. In their defense, that’s the way we’ve all been taught to play the game. They don’t know what they don’t know. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Then I started thinking, why is this a defense? Why are so many people willing to dismiss or accept this behavior? Well, in that moment, I decided I wasn’t willing. I spoke to the volunteer who was handling the line. (She was a different person than the one who gave us the rules) She told me she didn’t feel comfortable saying anything to those people about moving to the back of the line. I found this intriguing because I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything to them either yet I did.

I told the people that folks who had been in line the entire time were no longer going to get in because they had taken those spots. I was very diplomatic and kind. I was also firm. The response was surprising. They were offended and angry. One man told them that didn’t mean they had to leave to which I responded, “If they want to do the right thing, it does.” They did leave. However, their companions continued to discuss me and stay angry about it. Kevin had this conversation with another group. The woman behind us in line thanked us and told us we were brave, and there was a lot of sarcasm and unpleasantness about us from the people in front of us. I wondered why the person doing the right thing is the bad guy.

I honestly considered letting it go because it didn’t have anything to do with me. That’s not altogether true though. Every time we let someone take advantage of us, or someone else, we undervalue ourselves. We also aren’t helping anyone including the people who are taking advantage. It was really hard to say something to them. I felt like the stereotypical, crotchety adult yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn. Frankly, when I was younger, that’s what I thought whenever I witnessed exchanges like that. I believed the person doing the right thing was out of line and uptight. Then I realized that was all based on stories I’d created, or let someone else create for me, long ago.

I know that most people wouldn’t have done what we did. In fact, no one else there did, and we all watched the same thing happen. I know my children would have been mortified if they had been there with me. I know the younger version of me was cringing when it was happening. I know a few people had less than awesome things to say about me when it was over. There was no gratitude from anyone except the woman directly behind us. None of that was important. In that moment, it was simply about doing the right thing. I knew that if I didn’t do something it would gnaw at me. When the lady behind us said thank you and told us we were brave, I told her “Sometimes doing the right thing is the hard thing.”

So, what’s the moral of the story? Instead of pushing each other back, let’s move each other forward. Let’s take care of each other. There may not be any parades or awards for doing the right thing. However, you will be a stronger version of you, and you’ll leave the world a little better than it was before you got here. – Michelle Belsey