“Have you ever been asked to leave a restaurant?” Lulu, my parrot, asked. Trust lulu for asking unexpected questions.
“Never”, curious are the ways of Lulu, I thought. “What’s on your mind?”
“Just read that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, was asked to leave Red Hen restaurant.”
“Really? What was the matter?”
“Because the restaurant owner did not appreciate Sarah’s public defence of the President’s ‘cruellest’ policies. The restaurant owner explained ‘the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion and cooperation.’”
“Wow! That was quite a bold move. Why? What policies?”
“About removing children from their parents who enter the country illegally. About rights of the transgender.”
“Hmmm…… If you disagree with somebody, you can kick out a person from your office or restaurant? Would you evict high profile persons ‘wanted’ for crimes in another country? I mean will anybody ask Vijay Mallya to leave a restaurant? Or for that matter, Lalit Modi? Or Nirav Modi? Nirav bhai is staying in the seven star hotels all over the world ever since he absconded from India.”
“Tut, tut, tut! It doesn’t happen in India. Why think of big names? The corrupt corporaters of various municipalities are neither asked to leave nor asked to pay. In our corruption-friendly country the corrupt seem to be welcome everywhere.”
“But that is not the issue.”
“Then what’s the issue?”
“The owner of the restaurant did not want to do business with a person who did not meet her standard of honesty, and compassion and cooperation. Is it fine?”
“Well, what’s wrong with it?”
“Yup! A very value based question. Here is another one: Are you willing to accept that there can be two views on an issue. Would you like to throw out a person out of your restaurant because you do not subscribe to the other person’s viewpoint?”
“Hmm…..Is there anything wrong with the restaurant owner’s view? Can she not decide with whom to work and otherwise?”
“Yes she is entitled. I admire her courage. But the incident is also symptomatic of acute intolerance of a view not in conformity with one’s own. Open any newspaper and read the utterings of Rahul Gandhi and Amit Shah to understand what I mean. Thackeray brothers are in the same league. There is something macho about it, so they think, and public enjoys extreme views and expressions!
“I see your point. People are rejecting the person and not the argument.”
“Exactly!” Lulu said as he fluttered his wings in appreciation.
“Sometimes it is more important to discuss, reason or influence the other person to see the other side of the issue. It is not achieved by use of power.”
“The trouble is that ‘a conflict changes the way people see themselves.’ After this public gaze, the restaurant owner will repeat this behaviour. And so will Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Both will become totally impervious to the other viewpoint.” Lulu pushed away the guava before him, looked at me and asked, “What is the lesson, my friend? Will you try to influence or shut down arguments by show of power? Remember, if you want to change things, you must not behave like your adversary. Do you get me?”
Vivek S Patwardhan