I am not proposing that bigots, racists, and other small-minded people should walk through this world unchallenged. I am simply saying that, when interacting with people - even stupid people - it is important to deal with them on their own terms.
Last Saturday at the wine shop, a group of ladies came in and sat down at the bar. I know them to be regulars, though I do not know their names. I said to one of them, "So, can I get you something to drink?" She looked me right in the eye and said, "OK, that was perhaps the stupidest thing you could have just asked me, since I'm in a wine shop, bellied-up to the bar, and looking at the wine list, obviously trying to make up my mind. I'm just going to pretend you never even said that, and continue on with my life as if you were actually intelligent."
(OK, her actual words were, "Well, yeah...," but they hit the air between us with such heavy sarcasm and dismissive attitude that she clearly MEANT what I wrote in the previous paragraph. If anyone else had heard it, they would tell you it was obvious. Honest.)
In this exchange, I was clearly the stupid person she had to deal with. What I meant to ask, of course, was, "What can I get you to drink?" But, I phrased the question a bit too passively, and she chose to act upon the opportunity to make a point of my milquetoast, noncommittal phraseology. I mean, I'm behind the bar, and it's my job to take her order, so there was really no doubt about what I was trying to ask her. If she had just given me her order or asked for a minute to decide, the whole moment would have passed without any worthwhile notoriety. Also, I would not have spit in her wine. (Just kidding - but that was fun to imagine.)
Why did this woman feel the need to make an issue of my question? By taking such an attitude, she accomplished nothing positive, whatsoever.
To further my point, I took the "high road" here (which I do not always do) and continued to smile at her and treat her as a welcomed guest throughout her visit. She clearly wanted to be dealt with directly, so I obliged. Every other question I asked her was short, courteous, and to the point. If I had returned her attitude, or grown a pissy one of my own, we both would have been miserable as the night wore on. Instead, I'm proud to say, I just smiled and "made nice." By the time she paid her tab (in fact she pad ALL of their tabs!), she had spent quite a bundle, and left a sizable tip.
Sure, the wine probably lubricated her demeanor to some extent, but still, I'd like to think that the way I handled the situation struck a chord with this woman. If this were a film, set in my imaginary universe, we would now watch a scene from the next morning. As the Guest Of The Year enjoys Cafe Americano and warm scones on her veranda, she would gaze out across her vast, manicured lawn and contemplate the previous day, replaying our exchange in her mind. "What a delightful man," she would certainly think. "Even though I acted boorish and brutish, he was kind and charming the whole night through. I've learned my lesson - I'm never going to be rude to the help EVER AGAIN!"
I imagine she would then turn right around and yell, "Consuela! El coffee-o est cold-o! More caliente, dammit!!!"
See? Even in my fantasy world I can't change people. I guess you just gotta' live and let live.