Some time ago, Fred posted a somewhat inscrutable comment that said something like the things we are embarrassed about can be the glue of like-mindedness. Fred’s comments are usually thought-provoking and I have thought about it frequently since then. Apologies in advance if I misinterpret embarrassment as guilt, but it’s a good segue, so I’m going for it.
I received a link to this NPR piece on Why We Tip from an old food-service website subscription. It piqued my interest. Its conclusion is that most people tip out of generalized guilt.
Despite that I spent my entire career in food service, with the accompanying social tipping pressures, I am an inconsistent tipper at best. I have been told that I’m just plain cheap. I choose to call it frugal, but that’s not the real reason or the point.
I believe deeply in the effectiveness and goodness of clear rewards and consequences for behavior. If there is anything in my life that was successful and I am proud of, it is my children. My approach to fathering was to let natural consequences be the primary teacher. I chose to be a poor buffer and a good mirror. It worked fabulously. My kids were and are wonderful, exceeding me and my expectations in every way.
Apply that philosophy to tipping. It is nothing less than a metaphor for life. Early in my food service career, I was taught and completely bought into the story that tipping began in medieval rough-and-tumble road houses as an incentive for good service. Simple and straight forward. Get the food to me from the cook before it gets cold or spoils. I will pay you for your extra trouble.
When I get poor, inattentive, surly service I often respond with either no tip or a penny to send a clear message. I feel no guilt because I have done the right thing. My intentional action has the potential to result in a positive change that could make the world a little nicer place, at least for the next patron…. Or not… At that point it’s out of my hands and rests firmly with the server who will either change the behavior for better tips or become more surly and angry at me. Their move, but at least I have provoked a conscious choice.
On the other hand, when I get really good service, I take genuine pleasure in rewarding the server with a generous tip. I often go out of my way to clarify the message by commenting to them and/or the on-duty manager what a pleasure it was for our paths to have crossed. I don’t need one of those impersonal, anonymous comment cards.
I was once told that what we are building here at the Village is an “intentional community”. It occurs to me that I have been trying to live all my life out of intention. That is, I think, the opposite of living out of unthinking, guilt-based, or unexplored and poorly understood traditions.
To be clear, I am no saint and no stranger to feelings of guilt. But as I look back on my life, I find that the things I did that worked and I am proud of, almost always came from a positive, intentional motive. Actions starting from guilt often lead nowhere but to more guilt with unintended results. As a motive for quitting a bad or ineffective behavior, I like natural consequences a lot better than nagging, amorphous, brooding guilt.
I am consciously working to build a culture at the Village on Sewanee Creek that is intentional and therefore positive. A place of continuous learning, endless creativity, openness to exploring and recognizing the beauties of this world in their stark, truthful and sometimes harsh natural reality. Nature is a great teacher. I guess a certain amount of guilt is sometimes useful, but I hope that the glue of our like-mindedness will be made mostly of intention.