By Alex Chong Do Thompson
Before I started practicing Zen, I treated people the way I thought they deserved to be treated.
If someone was kind to me, then I would be kind to them. If someone screamed at me, then I would scream at them. And if someone really pissed me off…well, you get the point.
Looking back, this mindset had a huge affect on the way I treated the waitstaff in restaurants. To be clear, I was never rude to my servers, but I did tip more or less based on what I thought they deserved. In fact, if the service was especially poor, I wouldn’t leave a tip. The goal was to show them that they’d done something wrong in the hopes that they’d do better next time.
It sounds good on paper.
But my spiritual practice made me question if my tipping policy was effective in the real world. What if my not leaving a tip was simply perpetuating the cycle of disappointment and discontent? For example, what if I received bad service because my waiter was having a bad day, and then I made their day even worse by not leaving a tip, Wouldn’t that mean that the person who sat down after me would have an even worse experience?
Furthermore, what if the server went home after their horrible day and got in a fight with their spouse because they didn’t make enough money. How far down did this rabbit hole go?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t know what happened as a result of me leaving a tip, or not leaving a tip. But it was the one piece of this cosmic puzzle that I could control. So I started leaving 20% no matter what. At best it would result in a positive outcome, and at worst it would result in a neutral one. Either way, I could go to sleep at night knowing that I did my part to make the world a little bit happier.
I’ve been doing this for three years, and the results have been good. I generally don’t go back to restaurants if I have a bad experience, but there have been a few times where circumstances made me go back, and I was treated really well. In fact, there have even been times where I got great service from the same person who treated me poorly the first time around.
Did my tipping policy sow the karmic seeds for a positive dining experience? I don’t know. But I think it’s safe to say that in the face of adversity, kindness is a good response.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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