Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Going Negative

We had a family wedding in Maine last weekend, with some time to shop, eat and explore in places like Freeport, Boothbay Harbor and Augusta. We hit the L.L. Bean Flagship Store, had a lobster roll at the Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster Co., and at one point stopped off for lunch at a place on the water that had gone up against Bobby Flay in one of our favorite Food Network shows, Throwdown.

We found plenty of online and on-premise promotion of that notable event, and near the end of our very satisfying lunch the owner (who we recognized from the framed photos and press clippings hanging on the wall) came over and asked how we were. Great, we responded, and then got to talking about his experience with Flay and generally having dropped out of the corporate world with his wife a decade ago to begin a very different life owning and running a restaurant.

Turns out he lost the battle with Bobby, which anyone who watches the show could tell you puts him in pretty rare company, and as a result seemed to be carrying around some baggage associated with the judging process. Fair enough, but as we continued to talk about our trip and the places we'd eaten, he had something negative to say about every one. When we mentioned that the lobster bisque at Harraseeket was extraordinary, he brought out a little taster cup of his to prove to us that it was better - it wasn't - and proceeded to trash the place, and others where we'd encountered long lines and good food.

We left the restaurant with a bit of a bad taste in our mouths created entirely by this guy's negative attitude and need to know better, be superior, in his own mind and rhetoric if nowhere else. We had a perfectly fine meal, we'd found our way to his beautiful spot, after all, there was really no reason to try to sell us on how great his stuff was, we were eating it. And, still, for some reason the decision to go negative, to try to solidify or elevate his standing in our eyes (or his own) by knocking down his relatively far-flung, and maybe more celebrated, counterparts.

At 7 and 9, we're starting to bump up against this dynamic with the girls, in the form of people around them - even close friends - at times seeking to build themselves up by diminishing the landscape, and those who are part of it. Cross words, hurt feelings, yesterday's "best friend" who for some reason today decides to snub them on the bus. Our messaging in these situations invariably revolves around focusing on yourself, on everything you are and all the great qualities you bring to the table instead of what someone else decides to call it, or how they happen to feel about it, on any given day. Hard conversations, with pain and the potential for at least passing damage meted out for no reason at all other than, maybe, to seek to elevate by putting someone else down.

It's easy to do. There's a reason political candidates attack and demonize their opponents, because it works - at least in the short term. But it's ultimately unsustainable, and it's a heck of a way to try to live for all but the most insecure and vicious walking among us. I think about this little restaurateur we met the other day. All he had to do was thank us for picking his place and enjoying the food, maybe something on the pride he takes in his ingredients and staff, the care he takes to make customers have the kind of enjoyable experience that brings them back. Instead he went on his edgy little "here's why the other guys stink" riff that turned us off and, more than likely, cost him our business if we ever return to the area.

But he did succeed in providing a valuable and instructive lesson that can be applied in a thousand different ways. He may have felt better about himself in the moment, but he lost in the end.

3 Comments:

Blogger Tim said...

I can really relate to this. My son (9) and daughter (7), are impacted by the friend who declares "today I'm not your friend." It is an emotional subject with them, as you want to acknowledge the pain associated, but maintain a positive attitude.

Good story, and one I'll remember if we visit the location.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Lori said...

Sorry about your experience, but it was an enjoyable story with an important lesson. The poor guy, the only one he is competing with is himself. Whether he needed to or not.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Hope said...

Amen.

8:23 PM  

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