It was his second month in this new job and Joe already knew it was going to be hell. They say to give it three months (whoever ‘they’ are, he wasn’t quite sure), before deciding to jump ship and hand in the towel.
But in this place, everyone had their friends made and lunchtime in the cafeteria was full of the usual cliques. The ‘body pumpers/gym junkies’, ‘the wannabe housewives’ who can’t afford not to work, the ‘victorious vegans’ who have rebelled against society and have managed to make the life changing, successful decision to cut out most tasty foods from their diets – horray for them. Then there was the group Joe should fit into – the ‘five fatties’ group. Always the closest to the food serving counter stalls. As if the other groups subconsciously sit further away from the benches closest to the hot food, knowing the ‘five fatties’ will be up again for seconds, better make room. Everyone in this company was assigned to a group and no matter where Joe sits, he won’t belong to any group but the ‘five fatties’ group.
It’s sinful really that people judge others by looks and preconceived conceptions that aren’t always right. If they had taken the time to get to know Joe, they’d know he doesn’t belong in the fatty group as he’s actually a loser. He may still be overweight but he’s lost 4 stone, and counting, in the past year. Surely this should place him in the winners group, the achievers group, the group of success stories, the determined weight losers co-operative? But no, it’s always the same. People judge and they always will. Joe does it as well, so why should he complain?
It’s not as if Government officials can roll out a new ‘How not to make judgements’ programme in all preschools across the country. It’s just not possible, we’re human after all. We’re not dogs, dogs don’t judge, they love unconditionally. Maybe dogs should be teaching humans about the gene that we humans missed out on?
Joe’s inner turmoil spiked one January afternoon after lunch when Mary, his wannabe housewife line manager, asked Joe to come into her office. The newspaper that the company produce every month want to do a feature article on obesity. They want Joe to star in the article.
“And why me Mary?” Joe asks out of sheer frustration.
“Well. . . we thought you might be interested in getting more publicity for your sports feature?” Mary replies innocently.
“My sports feature has nothing to do with obesity. My target audience are into sport – not obesity. Since we’re stereotyping here, my target audience are all fit, athletic readers. Would that not be right Mary?” Joe snaps.
“I’m sorry Joe, maybe this was a bad idea. I’ll ask someone else.”
“You do that Mary. But don’t let be anyone else from the ‘five fatties’ group. We know that’s what you call us,” Joe replied as he turned towards the door of the office and made to leave. “Oh and by the way Mary, if you had gotten to know me over the last month, you’d know that I’ve lost four stone in the past twelve months. Now THAT, I would have discussed,” Joe says angrily as he pushes down on the door handle and storms out of the office.
The next day when Joe enters the cafeteria at the normal time of quarter to one, he notices the tables and chairs have all been reorganised into a large circle in the middle of the floor. There’s a few other people in the cafeteria but not many as people only leave their office desks on the dot of one. Joe always likes peace and quiet when he is eating.
He gets his usual ham salad as he’s still determined on losing more weight, and turns to sit in his usual seat . . . only it’s gone. Joe scratches his head and begins to panic – where can he sit? Obviously there was some sort of meeting here this morning and they haven’t moved the chairs back yet.
“You’ve seen our new cafeteria layout Joe. What do you think?” asks Mary from behind him.
“Do you need a hand moving it back Mary? Everyone upstairs will go nuts when they come down and see their seats have all been rearranged.”
“That’s the whole point Joe,” Mary remarks as she places her tray on the table in front of the seat she’s randomly selected. “After our encounter yesterday, I asked the caretakers to move all the chairs and tables into this large circle. Maybe this way, we’ll all get to know more about our work colleagues and the real person that lies within each one of us. Will you take a seat beside me Joe?” Mary asks as she gestures towards the seat beside her.
After what feels like a long pause, Joe sits down beside her, slightly reluctant. “I hope you don’t think I was complaining. I actually like my work here. Even if I don’t feel comfortable at lunchtime,” Joe says honestly.
“Well that’s about to change Joe. You were right with what you said. We all had our own places in this cafeteria, our own friends. We should all be friends, we’re work colleagues. Anyone should be allowed sit wherever they want.”
At 13:00 the cafeteria began to fill up. To Joe’s surprise the rest of the workforce marvelled at the idea of the new seating arrangement. Everyone made a concerted effort to sit next to a person they didn’t know and learn something about that person. The lunch hour was such a success that for one day only, lunchtime was extended by one hour! Joe was very grateful and he earned himself employee of the month for January.
What society believes to be the ‘norm’, whether judging people or otherwise, isn’t always the case. Joe learned that Mary used to weigh nineteen stone and Mary learned that Joe used to be a stay at home dad until he ran off with a supermodel and divorced his wife. Society would never have guessed that!