Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't pre-judge Hooters! A martial arts parable.

Seems some parents in Clearwater, Florida, have a problem with Hooters. (See article below) Now, I've never been to Hooters but then again I've never been to Clearwater, Florida either, particularly not to a school parents' meeting and largely for the same reason. I never wished to really.

I strongly suspect however that I'd be more welcome and less likely to be thrown out of the Hooters than the school board meeting, particularly if I relaxed, spoke out and was myself. Just a hunch based on years of being myself.

Not too long ago, I had a martial arts Sensei who taught me many things about life, one of them being the importance of not prejudging Hooters.

A Sensei is a Japanese word for teacher, particularly a martial arts teacher, but it also means more, patron, benefactor, mentor and guide are all part of the duties and roles that a traditional Sensei has to his students and I was lucky to have a Sensei who took these roles quite seriously. An interesting man, he was an aikidoist (practicioner of the martial art of aikido) and a former bouncer, ex-prison inmate, Vietnam combat veteran and high school drop out from the Puerto Rican areas of the New York City Bronx. He'd had an interesting yet often difficult and ugly life and it had shaped him. Although he fully admitted that he'd done things he greatly regretted and in his own words hadn't been a very nice man for much of his life, not too long before we'd met he'd been diagnosed with AIDS and told that he only had a few years to live. Being confronted with his own mortality had caused him to re-examine himself and his life and caused him to work hard to become a person he truly wished to be in his remaining time. I was inspirted by watching him strive to improve himself.

He taught me that the key to self improvement is self examination and self honesty and that you've got to recognize your strengths and build on them while assessing your weaknesses and working to fix those as well. He never spoke of this and never lectured on it. Instead he lived this out and it was through watching and copying him that one learned these important lessons.

There came a time when I needed a car. My Sensei decided to work at finding me, one of his students, a car if I needed one, and soon hooked me up with a friend of his, a mechanic who ran a garage and rebuilt and sold cars he purchased at auction.

The car was great. It ran well, the price was quite reasonable and the lengthy warranty package that his friend threw in was quite generous. I was so thrilled that I barely gave thought to my Sensei's frequent admonitions and reminders that if anything went wrong with the car and there were any problems getting it fixed, come to him immediately. Although he said it repeatedly and emphasized it, such statements were not out of character and I shrugged it off.

It was only later, when the garage closed due to lack of business, that Sensei told me the complete story.

Although the mechanic, he assured me, was a wonderful mechanic, he was also bipolar, manic-depressive and refused to take his meds. When he was up, everything got fixed, fixed quickly and customers were quite pleased. However when he was down and depressed, things did not go so well. Cars would get left, untouched, up on the rack for three of four days at a time and when customers called demanding to know what was going on with their car, it''d often take several calls before they were able to reach the mechanic who held their vehicle and its keys. Then, when they did speak, he'd often just sort of complain and explain in a very exhausted voice that he was tired and just didn't feel like fixing their car that day. When the customer complained the mechanic would respond rather helplessly in the same exhausted voice that he really couldn't help it and was sorry but he just couldn't fix the car and wished he could. Probably he'd fix it soon though, he might assure them, if they were lucky.

"But I know what to do when he gets in those moods," Sensei assured me.

Ït seems that not only as the mechanic was a friend of his, but that Sensei had referred several people to his garage, he'd been called upon to intervene in several such customer service problems.

"I take him to Hooters," he said. "And when he's not looking I tip the girls extra to treat him real nice. After that he usually feels up to fixing some of the cars."

Which sort of encapsulates much of Sensei's approach to life and people in a single story. Always helping people but often through approaches that most of us wouldn't think of trying.

So, as always, Sensei taught me many things, one of which was do not dismiss Hooters as a worthless institution. To the right people at the right time, it can be invaluable.

* * *


Parents in Clearwater, Florida, are upset after a certain speaker was brought in to talk to their kids at school. Brittany Morgan, a Hooters waitress, spoke during "the Great American Teach-In," a career event at the special-needs school. Morgan discussed looking presentable at work, tipping, and Hooters charity work with the students at Calvin A. Hunsinger School. She did not wear the Hooters uniform (skimpy orange shorts, low-cut white tank top, flesh-toned hosiery, white socks, and white sneakers) to speak in front of the kids. One parent was still disturbed, saying, "It's just the wrong message . . . like we're telling them that you're the bad kids and this is all you'll be in life." Some people on Twitter agree, saying, "Can we raise the bar for kids' aspirations?" Morgan said she understands why the parents might be upset, but that there was nothing inappropriate about her speech. Morgan added, "Most of us are going to school. We're aspiring to do other things in life. This isn't our career." The principal of Hunsinger, Stephani Bessette, defended Morgan's appearance, saying "Working as a waiter or waitress to achieve higher goals should be commended." Hooters states that its mission is "to provide a family of hospitality and services that achieves excellence and enhances lifestyles of all who come in contact with the Hooters brand."

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