The popular headline on today's AOL.com online news is "Woman reportedly assaults waitress over $4 'All-You-Can-Eat' Denny's pancakes." The reporter's "Buzz 60" report starts by saying, "I don't like making assumptions, but I don't think this happened during normal breakfast hours," and anyone who ever worked the graveyard shift at a restaurant knows the journalist is implying that the woman was drunk. (Oh yes, I've done my time on the graveyard shift, too!)
The journalist is, of course, making assumptions, which journalists tend to do these days, something we used to call "sloppy journalism," or reporting without all the facts. I could not find any verification that alcohol was involved. Nor did I find any information as to when the altercation took place, or the other point of view--what was said to the woman by other diners or the waitress? The journalist also encourages viewers to "pass it on" and includes the name of the woman who argued over pancakes.
noun 1.a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.
We all make assumptions throughout the day. It's a natural reaction to situations that seem out of place. I am making an assumption as I type, assuming that the journalist is treating the woman in this story unfairly, but I am doing so to make a greater point--when we make assumptions, we also create victims, as in this story, which is now flying around the country on a popular, international news source website.
Why is this important to me? Because I know how it feels when people make assumptions about me based on the fact that I stutter, that I am shy, that I have a brain injury that causes me to take a split second longer to answer a question than others might take and yes, people have told me that this pause makes them "think" that there is something "wrong" with me, and because my injury does not come with a glaring scar on my body, their thoughts start spinning.
I have to admit, prior to my head injury I often made assumptions. When I was employed as a private investigator and legal investigator and encountered someone who hesitated to answer a simple question, in spite of the fact that it was my job not to make assumptions but to gather facts I often assumed that the pause in conversation was caused by the use of drugs or alcohol.
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.
So, what are the other possibilities? What other reasons might a woman have for throwing a fit when confronted about the fact that she was caught sharing pancakes?
The first possible reason that comes to my mind is that someone was obviously filming the altercation on their cell phone. I've been falsely accused of taking photographs before, but the truth is I find that sort of behavior distasteful and unless someone is being threatened or is in danger and the photograph could be used to protect them (and in my case photographs could be used to protect me from my situation) I believe it is an invasion of privacy. In this day and age, privacy no longer exists, and anyone with any sort of problem is forced to explain their actions. Some call this self-protection. I call it rude.
There are many reasons why someone might suddenly become angry when publicly confronted, and I do not believe their anger is justification to have their name spread across the world news.
1) What if the woman and her friends are poor, have no family, and support each other by finding cheap ways to obtain a meal? Am I making an assumption? Yes, but my point is that there are other possible reasons than the possibility that she was drunk.
2) People with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) sometimes have problems with anger. When I was young and someone screamed at me I could easily walk away. In fact, I would run away. I was shy, abused when I was young, and never once defended myself. Never. Now, when someone angrily confronts me I still run away...but sometimes, I defend myself by shouting back, and I have been told that I have a right to defend myself, but anger frightens me, even my own anger. It terrifies me. It may be true that no one has the "right" to scream in my face, scream obscenities at me, shout cruel things to me or make me feel frightened because I am a kind person and I do not treat others that way. It is as unfamiliar to me as an alien spacecraft would be parked in my backyard. Did the woman have the right to attack the waitress? No. Do we know why she did it? No. Do we know what the waitress said to her? No. Do we have a "right to know?" No. So many, many assumptions. Why not let it go? Statistically, 80% of the time when we retaliate, seek revenge, or simply try to defend or protect ourselves the perpetrator escalates the situation. In this case, the situation escalated by spreading the news around the world and humiliating a woman so terribly that, well, like everything else in this story, we really don't know what she will do now, and that IS irresponsible journalism. Sometimes it really is best to simply let it go, walk away, especially if it doesn't concern you. In this case, someone called the press. Someone made a decision to escalate the situation, and I doubt it was the woman who walked out of the restaurant without paying her bill. It was a minor incident and should have stayed that way. Now, as ISIS murders people in the street, children are taught in school how to hide from "shooters," and people in third world countries fight for clean water to cook a meal for their children, in the United States the most popular news story of the day is a woman who shared her pancakes.
3) Another reason we should not make assumptions: The journalist does not tell us in the story what was said to the women at the table by the waitress or the people at other tables, but we can "assume" they made comments. If they did, was it their business? If they could afford their dinner then I am happy for them. If they were concerned about the woman who was sharing her meal, why not buy her meal for her, a meal which costs less than a Starbucks coffee.
4) What if the woman had some other form of disability that interferes with her communication skills? What if she is Bipolar or Developmentally Disabled? This would mean she cannot control her actions. This would also mean she is most likely living on a fixed income, which never covers the groceries, confronted and humiliated by other diners and the waitress, and still was unable to feed herself. Judge not, that ye be not judged. Print their names, too.
5) What if she recently suffered a family tragedy and asked her friends to join her at a restaurant so she could turn to her support group for help, but she forgot her purse and was already embarrassed that her friends immediately responded by offering to share their food? What if she recently lost her spouse, her only source of income?
6) What if there was alcohol involved? Alcoholism is classified as a disease by the American Medical Association. Do you honestly believe people who suffer from this disease want to live that way? That is a terrible assumption.
7) What if the woman realized she was overwhelmed and afraid and over-reacted and desperately wanted to return to the restaurant and apologize and dug through her couch and her car seats and walked the streets looking for coins until she could find enough money to pay for the meal? She can't go back now, and whose fault is that? We should all have the opportunity to apologize, but the contemporary view on what makes news also makes it impossible for people to move on with their lives, move on past mistakes, apologize and make things right.
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.
Please note that I did not include a link to the article. Instead of sharing the article, as the journalist encourages you to do, ask yourself: Why is this news? Why does the public have the "right to know" that a woman was publicly humiliated? Not one of us can say how we would react unless we were in her shoes. According to the World Health Organization as reported on CBS News, one person is murdered every 60 seconds on our planet, but contemporary journalists encourage you to "spread the news" about a woman who had a meltdown in a restaurant, and no one but the woman knows why.
Instead of scanning the internet--or Facebook--for the article, I would encourage you to buy a meal today for a friend or stranger, and the next time someone encourages you to "spread the news" about the actions of someone else, stop and...
(This post is dedicated with love and compassion to Linda, a U.S. Army veteran who gently explained to me that it's not always necessary to defend myself when verbally attacked, even when I feel afraid. That no matter how desperate my situation may seem at the moment, there is always someone else whose situation is far worse.)