A hostess at a restaurant in York recently got a surprise in the mail: An apology and $100 from an “embarrassed customer” who had mistreated her on a busy night last month.

It also came with a bit of wisdom for us all: “You never want to be ‘that guy,'” the customer wrote, “and that day I was ‘that guy.'”

What goes unsaid is that we are all capable of being “that guy” on the wrong day, when our worst impulses get the best of us and we lash out in anger. But as the letter shows, we don’t have to be defined by our ugliest moments.

It’s an angry age, after all, even before COVID, with so much division over political, financial, racial and geographical differences, with mounting distrust between Americans who don’t see eye-to-eye.

Now that anger is intensifying as the lingering pandemic further divides us. Those Americans who have taken COVID seriously and sacrificed in the name of public health are losing patience with those for whom vaccines and masks represent a threat to their view of our country and its promised freedoms — and vice versa.

That clash comes as people were already fraying from 17 months of stress caused by uncertainty, isolation and the peril of the virus — a time when Americans also endured the unrest in response to the murder of George Floyd and general police violence, a brutal presidential election followed by the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, and now an historic heat wave as COVID resurges.


There’s little surprise, then, that Americans are awash in anxiety and dread, and that those uncomfortable feelings are coming out in public as anger — it feels much better to yell at slow service or that jerk in the next lane over than it does to worry about where the world is going.

There are legitimate reasons to be angry, of course. But wherever it comes from, it’s what we do with the anger that matters. Anger can be fuel for change, but it can also be debilitating.

In any case, we can’t let it boil over into our every-day interactions. We can’t use every perceived slight and inconvenience as an excuse to lash out. That’s no way to run a civil society, and no way to create strong communities and a strong America.

When we do show our worst, however, we should recognize that we are not lost causes, just human. As the customer’s letter to the hostess shows, when we make mistakes, sincere apologies and amends go a long way to repairing any damage you may have caused.

We should remember that, too, when we see others lose their battle with anxiety and fear. Just like the rest of us, they are not irredeemable.

We are not our worst moments — and neither is anyone else.

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