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Advice from Honest Abe could have helped pastor and waitress

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Column by David B. Whitlock

If only they had followed Abraham Lincoln’s example about what to do when in a fit of anger.

I’m referring to the pastor and the waitress, the pastor being the Rev. Alois Bell, the woman who wrote on her Applebee’s receipt, “I give God 10% — why do you get 18%?” The server, Chelsea Welch, who wasn’t actually the one who waited on Bell, photographed Bell’s comment, including her signature, and then posted Bell’s note on Reddit.com with the headline, “My mistake, sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries.”

Subsequently, the server was fired.

Pastor Bell didn’t like the fact that she was being charged an automatic 18 percent gratuity for a large party. When her snarky comment raised a bumper crop of criticism, Bell apologized, admitting her words were a lapse of judgment.

“I’m human,” she said. “I did that.”

Applebee’s defends its action in firing Welch because, according to the restaurant chain, she violated the company’s social media policy, which includes protecting personal information about their guests.

Not everybody appreciates the mandatory gratuity for large parties. After all, when it comes to a restaurant tip, how is it a gratuity if it’s included in the bill?

But why did Bell have to invoke God to justify her aggravation? A tip is a gratuity based on performance; a tithe is an Old Testament command referring to the obligatory giving of 1/10 of all possessions under Hebraic law.

It’s easier to sympathize with the waitress. We all have our limits on putting up with snide, unkind remarks from ungrateful people.

During college summers, I used to sell cemetery property door to door in Houston, Texas. We called ourselves “pre-needs counselors.” I learned what it was like to be a verbally abused salesperson and occasionally would massage my trampled ego by asking rude people, “You aren’t from Texas, are you?”

If they answered, “No,” I would respond, “I figured that because most people from Texas are kind and considerate.” If they said, “Yes,” I would raise my eyebrows in apparent shock and say, “That’s quite astonishing because most people from Texas aren’t like you; they’re kind and considerate.”

It felt good to say it and maybe that’s why I got chased off a few front doors, once by Broom Hilda herself. (I mean it; she really did wield a broom in my direction. And no, she wasn’t from Texas.)

As for Applebee’s, its action in firing Welch is justified. I still wish they would rehire her. After all, we like to think that the items we’ve ordered to eat and drink, the amount of our bill, as well as the percentage of our tip, won’t be posted online for the world to see.

So how could Lincoln have helped the pastor and the waitress? According to Lincoln biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals, Lincoln had a habit of writing “hot letters.”

In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, she said, “When he was upset with somebody he would write what he called a hot letter where he would write it all down and then he would put it aside until his emotions cooled down, and then write: Never sent. Never signed."  

Having expressed his angry feelings, Lincoln felt better and he didn’t have to regret angry words that he never sent.

Think of the embarrassment Pastor Bell could have saved herself if she had written a “hot letter” to the manager, let it cool down, then rephrased her cutting remarks or simply placed the letter in the unsent file. Or she could have written her remark on her own customer copy’s receipt and put it in her pocket rather than writing hurtful words on the restaurant’s receipt.

And if Chelsea had covered Bell’s signature in the photo, and then only shared it with some trusted confidants, she still would have her job today.

Now, as for me, I’m glad we didn’t have smartphones or the internet back when I sold cemetery property. Unaware of Abe’s method of handling anger, I might have recorded the front door vituperation of some boorish customer, maybe even recorded Broom Hilda chasing me, posted it online and gotten myself fired.

Think of it: I would have missed out on the 20 percent sales commission I made on all those cemetery lots I sold.

And then, without a job, I wouldn’t have had 10 percent  to give back to God.

David B. Whitlock is a Baptist minister and author of the book “Life Matters.” He can be reached at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.