A Lesson I Learned…at Walt Disney World of All Places!

Before I begin writing this post, I just want to say I have every respect for the so-called “cast members” of Walt Disney World. I just got back from vacationing there, and I have to say that of all places I have ever been, the members of the service industry there are overall the hardest working and most cheerful I have ever encountered.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. On this particular trip, we met one cast member in the Magic Kingdom who was, well, on a bit of a power trip. Armed with a flashlight and a bad attitude, he roamed Main Street during one of the evening parades, ordering those of us who had been held up at dinner to stay behind a white line on the sidewalk instead of pressing forward into the backs of those who had evidently arrived well before the beginning of the parade.

“Get back behind the white line!” he yelled, brandishing his flashlight. “This sidewalk must remain clear!”

Honestly, Walt Disney himself could have told this man what would happen in his obvious effort to diminish the spirits of young folks out to have a good time. The man, who must have been near sixty years old, had probably never seen a Disney movie or he would have never attempted it.

My boys were in a mood that night and noticed the poor guy’s name tag. Deprived of a good view of the parade and with no immediate way to get across Main Street to Futureworld and their real destination of the Buzz Lightyear ride, they decided to get their fun out of this guy we’ll call Steve. As we waited as patiently as possible for the parade to end and everybody to get out of the way, my boys peered down the sidewalk, deliberately stepping into the middle of it, then scampering back. “Here comes Steve!” they yelled gleefully. “Get back, quick!”

For the better part of fifteen minutes they enjoyed themselves in this fashion, then the parade ended and we started up the sidewalk only to encounter Steve waving his flashlight wildly and shouting, “One way only! This sidewalk is one way only, going that way!”

Bewildered, we looked around at the mass of people going every which way, but Steve was obviously not about to let us past him, so my husband turned, walked several steps in the indicated direction and stepped off Steve’s sidewalk into the tide of people on Main Street. He turned again in our original direction and my sons yelped in unison, “But, Dad, Steve said we had to go this way!” They were obviously delighted by my husband’s disregard for Steve’s authority and, with me holding onto their shoulders just to keep them from disappearing into the crowd, they formed a makeshift Conga line singing something about how Steve was going to get them. We drew many smiles from passersby and some even joined in our little dance.

I will go on record right now to say I was not dancing. I may have been shaking so hard some people might have gotten the wrong impression, but it was from laughter.

At any rate, on the other side of Main Street, we encountered another cast member holding a flashlight, who stood back, smiling, to let us pass. My sons immediately read his name tag. We’ll call this man Jim. “Hey, that’s Jim!” cried one. “He’s a lot nicer than Steve!” replied the other.

And we danced on.

What lesson did I learn from all this? Well, obviously Steve didn’t really intend to have a real effect on our night. He was doing his job. He was probably sick and tired of sweaty, stinky tourists who insisted on doing the exact opposite of what they should do and expecting to get away with it because they’d paid a freaking fortune to spend a day at the Magic Kingdom. Steve didn’t care about the price of tickets or the little girls who wanted to dress like princesses or the little boys who wanted to meet Buzz Lightyear or Jack Sparrow or the parents who wanted to indulge their kids’ every whim. Steve just wanted to do his job and go home.

He certainly didn’t intend to impact our vacation in a positive way. And yet that is exactly what he did. For the rest of our time at Disney World, every cast member fell into one of two categories. The “Steves” were unpleasant. The “Jims” smiled and waved and made us feel welcome. And whenever we encountered a “Steve” we had only to say the name to elicit a smile from each other.

My point is this: we don’t really know what effect we have on the lives of the people we meet. We may not even be trying to be unpleasant when we impact somebody’s life. We might be just doing our jobs in an uncaring fashion. But if we become Jims, we might make life more pleasant. And if we insist on being Steves, we might just find ourselves the unwitting butt of somebody else’s joke.