I was on vacation at Disney, the happiest place on earth, when I saw one of the ugliest verbal exchanges of my life. To be fair, I was at an Orlando McDonalds and not actually on Disney property when it happened. My family had sent me out to grab dinner for everyone, and like any health-conscious American parent, I ended up in a drive-thru.
When I pulled up, I saw only one other car and thought I’d have a short wait, but there was trouble brewing in the line front of me. The girl placing her order was not happy. In fact, she was screaming at the metal speaker. This was a first for me, having never seen anyone totally lose it over the McDonald’s menu.
But this young lady had lost it and lost it big time. Her hands flew in the air, gesturing wildly as she unleashed her anger on the faceless box. Clearly, though, this impersonal venting wasn’t going to do the trick. She would settle for nothing less than face-to-face communication. So she threw her car into drive, punched the gas and sped up to the window.
Then, she climbed half-way out of her car window (I’m not making this up) and let the poor kid working the drive-thru have it with both barrels. She waved her arms, her face contorted with rage, and spewed her venomous words all over this guy. What had he done, I wondered, tell her the nutritional value of the meal she’d just ordered? What could have possibly set her off?
Do you want fries with that? No, I want to shriek at you like a raving lunatic.
Finally, the drive-thru kid told her he was going to call the cops if she didn’t leave, and so she flipped him off and peeled out of the parking lot.
I felt horrible for both the McDonald’s worker and even for the girl. She was probably only in her early twenties, if that, and clearly out of control. If that’s how you react to a drive-thru order gone bad, how do you deal with the rest of your life?
It’s amazing how many people walk around just boiling with fury. I wondered how she’d gotten to that point, who had hurt her so badly or what crazy circumstances had happened to her that had turned her into that person.
I told the kid at the drive-thru how sorry I was that he had to deal with that and how much I appreciated what he did in his job. He told me that what I’d seen was nothing. There had actually been a shooting recently at another drive-thru across town.
I pulled out with my car full of Happy Meals wondering what it must be like to be that guy, to get totally steam-rolled by this crazy drive-thru girl and then to just go on doing your job filling orders for people who get mad at you for giving them the wrong flavor of shake.
Then I thought about how anger is a funny thing. There’s a good kind of anger, like when we see a story on the news about child abuse or someone scamming the elderly. God has wired us with a sense of justice that gets fired up when bullies take advantage of the innocent and the powerless.
But, really, that’s what, about three percent of the anger we feel? The rest is dumb stuff, like someone cutting me off in traffic or carrying too many items into the express check-out line at the grocery store.
Here’s the crazy thing, though. When I’m in the heat of a situation, both kinds of anger look the same to me. I can’t tell the difference, and neither can you. At the time we feel it, all of our anger seems perfectly logical. When someone ticks us off, we see ourselves as the injured party, the victim. Inside we cry, “Injustice!” and lash out at the one who has offended us in some way.
We feel totally justified mashing down the horn at the guy who cut us off in traffic, but to everyone else, we look like a jerk. I’m sure the hot-tempered girl in the drive-thru felt completely in the right. It’s how we all feel when we’re steamed.
As calm, objective observers, we see how nuts other people look when they blast someone. But when the anger is our own, it seems sane and reasonable. Maybe that’s why the Bible says only a fool gives full vent to his anger and also says in your anger, don’t sin. Don’t do something stupid.
Maybe we should all remember that the next time we’re stuck in a drive-thru line, or when the kid at the window messes up our order. Maybe we should remember that most of our frustrations in life aren’t even half as big of a deal as we think they are. Even when our anger is justified, maybe we should all just give our super-sized tempers a break, grab a Happy Meal and lighten up.