moral dilemma

Yesterday I was sitting in the Bagels & Beans with my sister. We had been there for maybe ten or fifteen minutes when a man walked in and ordered a cup of coffee. At first glance, you could tell he was different – the backpack, the slightly unkempt look, the too long beard, the old jeans – without there being anything discernibly wrong with him. He didn’t smell (at least not so I could tell, one table over), he didn’t shout or talk to himself or say rude things to people. Then the manager walked in, after he had been there for ten minutes, and asked him to leave, saying that he had been there too long already. The man said he had only been there for a short while, and had paid for a cup of coffee (a cup, incidentally, he was asked to pay for immediately, while other customers would pay when they left). The manager said that wasn’t true, that he had been there that morning as well, and this wasn’t the place to sit and hang around. The man looked really hurt and did leave within a minute or two (into the rain, by the way). I don’t think he was sleeping on the street, though he might be living in a shelter; that’s kind of the look he had.

Here’s my dilemma: the guy really had only been there for ten minutes. I felt like I should have said something to the manager, as he was clearly asked to leave because he wasn’t as ‘normal’ as the other customers. The man wasn’t annoying anyone, there were plenty of empty tables, and, more importantly, I’ve sat there myself for an hour or two on one cup of coffee, and that’s never been a problem. I didn’t say anything because I don’t like confrontations, wasn’t sure if was any of my business (although that line of reasoning is a slippery slope at the best of times), and wasn’t in possession of all the facts. I didn’t know if the guy had sat there for three hours later, ducked out for half an hour, and had come back. I didn’t know if he came in often and held a table on a cup of coffee during busy hours (even I will at least order again if it’s busy), or if he was ever unruly. I didn’t know if the manager was right in doing what he did on base of past behavior. It just felt wrong because, the way I saw it, the manager acted on stereotypes and prejudice and treated that man differently than he would treat anyone else, even though both were paying customers and hence entitled to the same treatment.

So I ended up doing nothing. Tell me, should I have said something? Would you have done differently? How far does my responsibility to look out for other people go? And if I were to do something, next time, what would be a good way to approach the situation?

One thought on “moral dilemma

  1. Oh wow this is a difficult situation. I think I would react the same way as you did. Be really surprised about the manager’s rudeness, but as much as I like to say I would, I don’t think I would have the guts to say anything at that moment….I have no idea how you could handle a situation like this in the future. So I am of no good use here, but I know I would feel awful for the poor guy…so stupid that we learn to shut our mouths and mind our own business. Because that’s partly what keeps us from sticking up for people…because we are afraid of what others might think of us.

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