Make the Crowd Feel Like They Matter

By Patrick McNerthney

A million years ago I worked in coffee-land as a professional barista. My morning routine,designed to both prepare for and survive the perils of a grumpy java-swilling populace,was simple:

  • Wake– 4:27 a.m.
  • Shower
  • Arrive at the cafe– 4:45 a.m.
  • Let the guy who showed up early every day inside.
  • Swallow extreme level of annoyance
  • Officially open for business–5:00 a.m.

Simple. Right?

Except when I had to:

  • 4:42 AM–Ask sketchy folks sitting at outside tables to leave (we had a deal – they bounced when the lights came on).
  • Kick people out because of various unwholesome (and illegal) activities.
  • Suffer biting remarks/put downs from various Working Professionals (so lame, they made the criminals look fun).
  • Get bossed around and gruff’d at by Working Professionals. 
  • Suffer attempts at diminishment by Working Professionals.

(You mean you didn’t like your latte?)

But the truth is, working with a bad crowd is why I liked being a barista so much.  

There’s nothing better than a bad crowd, because it tests the limit of how good we can be. Meaning, when it all falls apart and we have no control of our environment, feel overwhelmed, and have that nauseating sense that people are lined against us, we are forced into a simple decision: act, or submit.

(I guess maybe “flee” is another option—come to think of it, I did often want to flee that coffee shop). 

Here’s the thing: when we don’t give up by submission—when we keep trying—something magical happens. 

We show the bad crowd we care—despite the fact they’ve given up on us. 

I had so much fun showing my care at that coffee shop, let me tell you. I’m surprised I didn’t get fired. My favorite tactics involved what I would say when they walked up to yell their order at me:

  • Distraction: “Sure, one extra hot vanilla latte. You ever had Nutella and waffles?” 
  • Insults Stolen From Movies: “Sure, one drip coffee. Say, you get a free bowl of soup with that hat?” (Caddyshack, 1980)
  • Feigned Interest: “Ok, one Americano. You went to Ireland? Oh, man–pull up a chair. I gotta hear this…”
  • Personal Requests: “Hey, I’m too busy to take your order just now. How ‘bout you get me a Gatorade from the mini mart?”

And so on and so forth.

(Just add fried chicken and it would be perfect. Yum!)

Indeed, the magic happened with every answer. Sure, sometimes I got weird looks, freaked people out, once I was even told I was “rude,” but most people WOULD GO ON AND ON with their answers. It’s as if a TOTALLY DIFFERENT PERSON showed up and took control of these crazy people’s brains. 

So I learned a lot about people’s favorite foods, movies, vacations, beverages, meaning, I learned a lot about them as humans, because I stumbled upon a way to make them feel like they mattered. 

Bottom line: when you have a bad crowd that’s given up on you (or on themselves), what could you do other than give up? What could you do to make each person feel seen and heard? Because that’s all that most of us want. 

Fine Art Miracles (FAM) has a way to make your residents or loved ones feel seen, heard, and like they matter. Creative expression is the name of FAM’s game, and FAM’s creative programs connect the elderly, children with challenges, or anyone needing help with life’s daily life with the confidence, self-worth, sense of mastery, pride, and control they need to overcome social isolation.

In other words, Art Therapy, Dance and Movement Therapy, Music Therapy, ART2GO Packages (August features O’Keefe and Van Gogh sunflowers!), and all of FAM’s other programs give both you and those you care for a way to act, rather than submit. For you, FAM is way to act when it may feel like it’s impossible to make a difference and show them you care. For them, FAM is an experience that counteracts feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression.

So what are you waiting for? FAM is ready to help. Give them a call or drop them a note today

I must be honest: these days, I often forget to show the crowd I care. But now I’m inspired. I can’t wait to ask the folks at work a bunch of crazy questions when they’re all stressed out. “Have you ever won the lottery? Can I borrow $50K? Have you ever been arrested?” Hmmm, maybe I’ll skip that last one when I’m talking to my boss…


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