As I sat peacefully in a fine dining restaurant, under the shade of a cool tree, I could not help but overhear the conversation at the table next to me. A young couple, clearly in the early days of courtship. Tremulous excitement. Uncertain but hopeful air. Attempting to decide upon mutually appealing fare as smoothly as possible. They spent some time discussing the menu and then it was time to place the order.
But the steward had other plans. With an air of authority, his confidence stopped just short of arrogance. The couple before him were clearly no match. The young man was anxious to please his date. He hesitantly ‘suggested’ a dish they had discussed. The steward responded with disdain, politely verbalizing, “Wouldn’t you like to try … instead? Our chef is particularly good at pastas.” Visibly nervous, the young man glanced at his friend who had begun shaking her head in negation. “I don’t like pasta too much,” she pouted. This put him in a fix. He tried placing another order, but the steward was beginning to look displeased. The lady also began to feel intimidated, doubting her own tastes. “Are you sure it is good?” asked the customer. Despite the affirmative, he asked another three times, in different ways. Essentially, unknowingly, asking for assurance as they all knew that they would finally settle for the steward’s choice.
As he walked away triumphantly, the two looked crestfallen and yet relieved. “It should be good. He told us so.” muttered the man. “Yes, I guess no harm in trying.” she replied with a little disappointment.
While it is perfectly fine to solicit information and advise and be willing to experiment, seeing the dampening effect on them, the following observations came to mind:
- It is easy to be influenced when we are not sure of our selves.
- We give away our power easily to those in authoritative positions. A steward can make you change your choice of food, a doctor your choice of treatment, and so on. While there is nothing wrong with acknowledging and relying on another’s expertise, the question is, have you chosen your ‘expert’ with awareness, or through fear? Is this a conscious evaluation or blind faith?
- Despite having doubts about the congruence between the steward’s recommendations and their own preference, the customer failed to find the courage to voice them. How often do we silence our inner voice and what does this cost us? More than a meal I am sure. Where have you stifled your own choices because of someone else’s influence?
- Once he had relegated his power, repeatedly asking for assurance hints at how we attempt to justify the actions we have given in to. The initial error is now re-framed by seeking reasons to rationalize it.
- The feelings of discomfort are obvious and palpable, but ignored. All they had to do was acknowledge that neither of them was happy with the order, call him back and change it. But instead, they both pretended to be fine about it and even perpetuated the pretense with each other. Again, what does this kind of masking cost us in other areas?
Who we are reflects in all our spaces. And sometimes being observant in one area can lead to useful insights in other areas of your life. So the next time you pick a new restaurant, do notice how you go about choosing your experience.
PS: In case you are wondering, they did not enjoy the pasta after all. And drew the radical conclusion that they should avoid this restaurant in the future. Rather sad, because the food and ambiance are excellent actually. They just never took the opportunity it offered, but relied entirely on someone else instead.
Image Courtesy: Marylou Falstreau