Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cowardly Lion or Mighty Mouse?

When I was in my 20s I worked as a waitress at a Red Lobster restaurant in Phoenix. We had weekly server meetings to go over changes in the menu, receive pointers on how to increase sales and other relevant restaurant news. One day a man from the corporate office gave a presentation regarding a perspective bill going before our state legislature. If passed, all employees would receive at least minimum wage. At the time, tipped employees, such as servers, received half of the minimum wage.

The man giving the presentation spelled out doom and gloom for our wait staff. If this law passed, he conjectured, no one would tip us anymore and we would be forced to live on our hourly wages. He encouraged us to write our representatives and let them know we did not want this bill to see the light of day.

I was shocked how many of my fellow servers were ready to run home to contact their congressmen and congresswomen. They were so afraid of losing their tips they were ready to forgo the possibility of a bump in wages. It is true that tips, not wages, are the bread of butter of the serving world, but I knew that if this law passed it would not affect our tips. One of my dear friends, Di, worked as a waitress in California, a state that extended minimum wage to all employees (tipped or not) and she was making better tips than I was. I couldn’t imagine most of our customers knew what our salaries were or if they changed.

When I pointed out the lack of logic in the presenters reasoning to the store manager, he labeled me an instigator. It was a term that had been used to describe me before this incident and would be used again decades later. I think had the presenter been more honest and said the burden of paying these extra wages would be an issue with the corporation, perhaps I might have been more sympathetic. However, I felt their method was deceptive, their intent was based on corporate profit and greed more than helping the servers, and the whole thing had the stench of social injustice.

Long story short, the bill never passed. I think servers make a little more than half of the minimum hourly wage in Arizona, but I’m pretty sure they don’t receive the full amount. I haven’t been a server in decades, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t championed other incidents that denied justice to all. Being an instigator was a label I bore with pride.

However, somewhere along the line I lost my youthful courage to champion every injustice that crosses my path. Of course I always vote, occasionally write editorials and help in other ways, but I’m not out there carrying a banner, preaching on a soap box or even arguing with my relatives about their views. I prefer engaging in dialogue when I can, but if I don’t feel the person is open to a friendly exchange of ideas, I don’t even bother. In this country we are all entitled to our opinions.

Freedom of speech was a hallmark in my studies as a journalist, as well as in family affairs. My father loved to discuss politics and encouraged us to voice our views. However, he also said you cannot reason with three types of people, bigots, bullies and drunks. He worked in a bar, so he saw a lot of all three types of “”unreasonables.” Of course if things got heated he didn’t walk away like I do. He knew how to throw a well-aimed punch that could fell an opponent in one blow. My father wasn’t a big man, so he had to make sure that one punch worked or he was in big trouble.

I don’t go around punching folks, nor do I have any desire to. Oh, okay, sometimes I have a little desire to play rock ‘em sock ‘em robots with someone’s chin

when I see people mistreat children or animals, but I would never act on this negative impulse. Somewhere along the line I learned to avoid fights. While I think it is safer to avoid confrontation with others, I realized that I had let this cowardly attitude seep into my personal life as well. I had turned into a mouse. And not a courageous one like my hero, Mighty Mouse with his bellowing, “Here I come to save the day!”

My call was more like, “Now it’s time to run away!” Personal preservation is not necessarily a bad thing. I know I do not have the power to change others, but what was really disturbing is I was not challenging my own weaknesses with the drive that I used to let bubble forth.

Then I went to a Buddhist meeting. A woman talked about the importance of facing our obstacles. Rather than running from our challenges we should bring them closer, only armed with prayer, and knock them on their proverbial butts.
As she described this scenario I envisioned prayer as a protective shield. How could I slay my personal demons if I kept running away? Whether or not you believe in prayer, here are a few tips to help you regain your personal power and bolster your courage. It’s from Chapter 5 in my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.

•Don’t blame others for your problems.
Lose the victim mentality and take responsibility for your life – bumps and all. Life is not something that is handed to you, it is something you create. Adopt a proactive approach that shifts from “What can I get?” to “What can I contribute?” Next time you find yourself wanting to point a blaming finger at someone else, take note of your hand. While your finger and thumb may be pointing at someone else, three fingers are pointed right back at you!

•Align yourself with people, situations or organizations that can help put you on a successful path. Ask yourself, “What am I focusing on?” If it’s not positive, redirect your thoughts.
Focusing on negative thoughts and situations is like counting your neighbor’s money. Sure, you can do it (if they allow it) but what good will come of it? It’s not going to increase your bank account one bit, no matter how much time you put into it.

•Take responsibility and find ways to succeed.
If people put more energy into solving problems instead of whining about them, all of our lives would be easier. When Thomas Alva Edison was experimenting with the correct filament for his light bulb, he was unsuccessful more than 1,000 times. Rather than becoming discouraged he is quoted as saying, “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb”. What an enlightened concept!

Victims are often shackled by their inability, or unwillingness, to forgive others or themselves. Harboring resentments, even those that seem justified, does not help the situation. In fact, it makes it worse. Corrie Ten Boom said, "Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me.” We cannot change the past. Forgive others, or yourself, and move on. Your heart will be lighter and you will be able to pursue happier endeavors.

•Do not shy away from your personal power.
Acknowledge your strengths. Be your own best friend. Make a list of things you are proud of. It can be an accomplishment, a personal attribute or anything that makes you feel good about yourself. Take out the list and reread it – every day if necessary. Continually remind yourself of the magical essence of you.

•Get busy with your dream, not busy work that doesn’t feed your soul.
I hope you will use this article and use it as a way to feed your soul. Don’t pick fights, but when it comes to your own weaknesses, arm yourself with your personal power (or prayer) and champion your own personal happiness. And don’t forget, if you dine out and receive good service, don’t forget to tip the server, whether they get paid minimum wage or not.

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