I watched a woman yell at a rental car agent at the airport. I was returning my car, and because of an earlier snafu, I needed a signature before I could get on my plane. I was in a hurry and a little anxious to be waiting in a line I hadn’t planned on waiting in.
As a result, I got to witness a completely unreasonable woman losing it. “This is unacceptable! I’ll never rent from you again!”
Why was she so upset? She insisted she’d been assigned a minivan for a compact car rate by the man who made her reservation. When she heard how much a minivan is supposed to cost, she badgered the agent, telling him, “I won’t stand for this. You have to do better.”
So the poor guy did. Apologizing endlessly, he beat on his keyboard until he had knocked nearly forty dollars a day off her rate. She seemed pleased.
Then he went over the contract. When he told her that her rental period would cost her 140 dollars, she lost it again. “He promised me I could pick it up now (9 AM Saturday) and return it tomorrow at 9 PM for the cost of one day.”
The agent stared at her with tears in his eyes. The poor man was so thrashed by her words, he was nearly crying. Once again, apologizing profusely, he explained that anything over 24 hours would cost her an additional day’s fee.
Anyone who has ever rented a car knows that this is how it works, but this woman acted like the agent was insane. That’s when she promised never to use his company again.
From things she said, it was clear she was doing work for a children’s charity. She needed the van to haul packages to a hospital, or party supplies to a venue. Something of that nature. So concerns about keeping costs down would make sense. Maybe this is why she was so angry, so combative, and so abusive.
After she was gone, he had another customer to help before he got to me. Despite the minutes he spent with a normal, decent customer, the agent was still trembling when I reached the counter.
She was that nasty.
I was as kind and polite as I could be, though I had my own annoyance about the delay I’d been put through by my rental hassles. I wanted very much to comfort him, to apologize for the angry woman who apparently has very limited ideas of how to be charitable. But I also feared that he would fall apart if I empathized, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t want that.
On the plane, I was able to think of the words I should have said to him. “Ignore her. She was being unreasonable and irrational. None of it was your fault.”
Weeks later, I wish even more that I had had the courage to speak up at the time.
Not to him, but to her.
I wish I had been brave enough to challenge her attitude, to embarrass her in front of others for behaving even worse than a frustrated toddler. I wish I’d had the courage to defend the man who, because it was his job to please the customer, couldn’t speak up for himself. I wish I could have stopped her abusive behavior.
It’s easy to feel sorry for others, even to share their pain, but it is much harder to stand up and defend them — to stop the people who are hurting them. If we are going to show true compassion for others, we must go beyond feeling and act. We must find the courage to speak up and help one another.