Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Under Fire: Privileges and the Systems that Love Them

What can you do when you abuse your privileges? Someone in one of the areas in which you enjoy privilege abuses it, what then? Many people push back and say there is no such thing as privilege, white or otherwise. There are some people with whom one can debate and discuss. However, many are ignorant of that which they speak and so what’s the point? More times than not they have not sought out knowledge or evidence to support their views and opinions. They are ignorant by choice. If there is a social issue and you are relying on what is apparent to your superficial experience then you may well think the sun rises on one side of your world sets on the other revolving only to appear again day after day or you may be a flat-earther. You are ignorant by choice and that works for you. However for NASA and the space program not so much.

Here is one view of Internalized Privilege – This is a result of being a member of a privileged social group and absorbing the dominant cultural view point of your group. It leads to a sense of special entitlement i.e. feeling that being in a dominate position is the “natural” state of affairs because you are more capable or god gave it to you, divine right. The more privilege one has the more one views the worlds as an individual devoid of social and historical context. (Asante, Adair, Aal –Tools for Change)

At Home Depot today I couldn’t believe my ears overhearing an exchange between a customer and a black female employee in her 60’s.

The random white guy talking to the floor clerk: "Hey hun!" She doesn't hear him or pretends to not hear him. Random white guy: "Hey Hun!"

It’s obvious by his intonation he is purposely using this term, fully aware it is unacceptable, as he calls her again with emphasis on “hun.”

I ask, "how old are you?" Random white guy: "49" Me:" Wow, that young!"

I'm surprised, this language is wholly a holdover, a residual effect of my baby boomer generation or so I thought. My generation came by it righteous watching John Wayne drag Elizabeth Allen to a fountain, turn her over his knee, (Donavon's Reef 1963) spank her, then manhandle her right-side up and kiss her. At first she struggles but then gives in... because, you know, she really wants it... I was 7 years old. Elizabeth Allen died in 2006.

In “The Quiet Man, the Duke” grabs Maureen O'Hara by the hair and drags her through sheep shit. Maureen O’Hara died in 2015. By 1963 there were over 280 instances of films that included a spanking scene. Possibly this was a good ole tip of the hat to S&M since spanking was often a prelude to romantic involvement but there was never any confusion that men were large and in charge.

Back to random white guy, "what?"" Diid you just call her hun,? I asked. "Yeah what's wrong?"

Well I ventured “It's pretty brave or ignorant especially considering what's happening in the news today." Actually there was nothing brave about what this bully did. She could “pushback” and risk getting fired. Me pushing back in her stead? No chance of getting fired, well not from Home Depot.

He asked, "Do you think she was offended? I like it." "I like it too,” I replied, ‘ probably most men but not most women, yeah, I think most woman would be [offended], either because they think they should be or because they are."

He seemed to try to placate me with "Good point."

So I’m thinking he has a good point too, “I like it!” Forgive me for talking for most men since most of us have never met; I don’t know that we’ve every been offended by “hon, baby, sweetie,” talk. Male privilege talking? One of the more outlandish things that has happened to me, has been, having three women at work in single file, grab my ass. I wasn’t a longshoreman, it didn’t happen in a stockyard, it was in a professional office. I feigned anger and chastised them. I chastised them mostly because I was in one of my three marriages and I thought I should be pissed at least on marriage grounds. Though I think as I was fussing them out somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking, “yeah you got it!” Did I report it? Oh hell no. What for? It wasn’t a common occurrence, it didn’t set up a hostile environment for me, and I’d been subject to much worse. They had no authority over me nor did they have any desire I was aware of, to lord power over me. I just forgot about it.

Should women just get over it? I think not. As a group of people (women) this kind of incident has happened on a regular basis. Maybe not this incident exactly but women are subject to the thinking behind this kind of incident and micro-aggressions like Random White Guy is putting forth. Like spanking in the movies, like objectifying, way too familiar monikers are some of many reminders of who is in charge, even who is in charge of a women’s body. “I can treat you however I want to treat you; I’m a man and you are not and the system says so.”

I must say though, systemic superiority aside, often men see things, um, differently. Years ago when female teachers sleeping with their male students was all the rage coming to light on the nightly news, many men quipped, “Abuse? Are you kidding me? I wish my (fill in your own hot teacher) had had sex with me!” Apparently not many boys felt sexually assaulted as they bragged to their to other boys and even captured evidence as videos and cameras turned our phones into mobile surveillance devices.

So when men exhibit this “I’m special, almighty, and you’re not,” behavior should they be castigated or much worse, brought up on charges, shunned by society, stripped of their sports teams or fired from their tech jobs?

OK, let’s mull this one over. From time to time I lecture about white privilege, white supremacy, racism and empowerment. Are the dynamics of male privilege, male supremacy, and misogyny different from white privilege, white supremacy, and racism? In my high school in the 70s there was a rumor about campus that a member of the football team was, “bangin’” a hot female teacher. The rumor never got legs. Had there been a rumor about a male teacher “bangin’” a female student on the field hockey team I’m quite sure all hell would’ve broken loose. Notice in both cases the male does the banging. Supremacy supports privilege which exacts power's whim. And there is a downside for all concerned.

I argue if you are brought up in a system you are an unknowing product of that system perpetuating it, giving it life. If you are white and feel for instance systemic racism doesn’t exist, guess what, you and systemic racism are one.

Let’s take your average silver spooned white male baby boomer, like Donald J. Trump. Baby boomers are generally considered to be born between 1946 and 1955 after WWII when there was a jump in birthrates. Born five months after this, I missed it but I put myself in this category. Suppose Donald X grows up in a world where men spank women, men are the head of household, men’s ideas are better than women’s naturally and no one blinks an eye. It’s the way it is. Even today men congratulate sons for their first sexual, not encounter, not experience, their first sexual conquest into manhood outside of marriage. Not necessarily into adulthood but manhood. It would be juvenile if the implications weren’t so dire. Then again it’s juvenile and the implications are dire. I grew up in an era where the official advice for potential female rape victims was, “just relax and enjoy it.”

You can read often that beliefs and world views start as early as two years of age and are pretty much in place by around puberty. At this age a person has developed a view of how safe the world is, what it takes to stay safe and what is right and what is wrong. In most cases there has not been much formal training on a man’s place in the world, they” just know” through on the job training so to speak.

How much push back is there against misogyny? Well probably a lot but we all know who’s number one. How are women impacted by this male domination misogynistic point of view? Well woman glean and absorb these ideas like everyone else. Like I said, if you live in a systemic ism you are a part of it. Back in the good ole days they not only absorbed it but society had the good graces to send them through formal training. Yes that’s right Home Economics! Yeah this is one-sided and of course Home Economics could teach one to make a living with as a Domestic Engineer out in the world, but never without upholding the status quo how to keep house and satisfy their men.

It is so good this kind of thinking has fallen by the wayside, or has it? It was a little shocking to see female Trump supporters poo-pooing and down playing his penchant for... pinching or grabbing. Once I realized most of those women were Baby-boomers it made perfect sense.

The church has been on of the biggest proponents of a women’s place is not in authority. In more than a few churches in 2017 women are not allowed to preach or teach from the pulpit often quoting "Apostle" that women should not be in authority over men. Least ways that's the coming contemporary interpretation. Though this has changed in much of the male dominated religious world, as the bible says, “it is hard to kick against the pricks..” (I know it's out of context..I couldn't resist.) Fortunately they church doctrine forbids pussy-grabbing and is ofter pretty puritanical about sex, you know, except for that little boy/priest thing.

You can see the range and extent of male dominance goes from the pulpit to the porn pit. OK back to the dilemma at hand. What to do when a person is caught in the changing social tides of female and equal empowerment looking to morality and the constitution as guides?

I will proffer an incident I was involved in several years ago. For the majority of the last several years I’ve been celibate. (Celibacy is what you do with your mind while not heavy petting or sexing it up.) I ran into a colleague at a restaurant. We had worked together several, several years prior. We embraced in a hug and before I knew it my hands were traveling almost grabbing her beautiful butt. I was taking a deep whiff of hair and I may have even briefly nuzzled her oh so inviting neck. It was like going without food and not noticing you are hungry until food is within your grasp and then you are ravenous! I managed to stop before helping myself to a literal handful of butt. It was awkward. I was embarrassed and I think she was embarrassed. We didn’t say anything. Maybe we pretended it didn’t happen. My actions were not familiar or premeditated. I mean I wasn’t in the habit of accosting former colleagues, waitresses, store clerks, or random women at bus stops and thought I was impervious to such actions.

Again, I ask, what should be done to me how should your view of me change. I’m in favor of women’s rights, in fact respecting all people.. women included. At least I think I am. I thought I was till that incident. Maybe she thought nothing of it maybe it was a degrading devastating experience for her. The incident has nagged me since it happened. I long to be trusted and for people to be safe around me. I betrayed a basic trust and I would think she at the very least she doesn't feel safe. It took me a long time to find her and my apology was lame.

Well hypocrite or not I challenged this random white guy at Home Depot, he smiled, waved, and hurried out the door. I smiled and waved and watched him exit.

I could have handled it better. to me it was definitely a power play on his part, no way she could call him on it and not think about the prospects of becoming unemployed. Hindsight I should have had the conversation louder... at least _that._ Maybe in the back of my mind I could be only so judgmental.

I endeavor not to be judgmental period giving people the benefit of the doubt and offering them an opportunity to shift toward new possibilities and alternate perspectives giving grace and mercy when it can be afforded. Once again what should be done? I haven’t a clue but I will put forth this quote: It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change. I am officially a dinosaur striving to evolve. Your thoughts? Also guys hit me back if you know what, “riding bitch,” is. Was this a part of your environment growing up?

Monday, October 23, 2017

What are some Youth Empowerment Skills for Healthy Growth

Cavana Faithwalker
Cavana Faithwalker, Empowerment Strategist

Youth is a pretty fluid term.  The U.N. definition for youth is 15-24 years of age.

Let's start with Communication skills (More broadly though this is a part Interpersonal skills)- This involves a circuit or communication loop. It includes but is not limited to; vocabulary  that helps express emotion; I feel angry, scared, frustrated, etc. I use these examples because empowerment starts on the inside 100% of the time.)  When I first got involved in NVC-NonViolent Communication I was surprised at how incapable I was of expressing my emotions, the vocabulary was not there. For years I had thought I was very in touch with myself.  It turned out not so much.

The other part of a Communication loop is composed of listening and managing expectations. Ideally one’s primary goal in speaking is to be understood, not to persuade.  In most cases it is not imperative that we agree with each other.  Respecting the validity of someone else's opposing view may take some practice in today's American culture.  

One’s goal in listening is to understand, not to form an argument.  Express/listen/clarify to understand if need be.  Eg., Clarify hearing; “What I heard you say___________.”  Clarify expression often does not include repeating the same thing but rephrasing.  

No, Nein, Ei, Non, Nao, Yeah right
Out of all the slices of an empowerment pie, one particularly fruitful slice is saying “no." For many of us it is an empowerment skill we must practice. 
Part of communication has to do with responsibility and managing expectations but often overlooked intra-personal communication, or communicating with one's self can be the most important.  Often we offer up a disingenuous, "yes," when, "no" is how we really feel.  It's much easier to go with the flow or to not risk hurting someone else's feelings, raising someone's ire or disappointing someone.  It seems easy and often expedient but each time the cost can be much greater than we anticipate as we deny our inner selves as we become irresponsible to ourselves.  There is a certain amount of religiosity in this area.  I guarantee this is not what your good book means when it "says," deny yourself.

Interpreting Rejection

If you say you need a hug and don’t get one know that it wasn’t the other person’s responsibility to hug you in lieu of denying their responsibility to their own needs and feelings. Also that is how they responded that time, ok and the last ten. In general not getting what you've communicated that you want or need is not a valid indictment against you as an individual.  
If you’d like to know more about developing this here's a place to start NVC Nonviolent Communication.  There are hours of training by its progenitor Marshall Rosenberg and his faithful followers.  In broader peripheral terms- communication is very cultural and geographic and not only includes vocabulary but body language and eye contact, intonation and tradition.  This is not necessarily a “thing” this is just to point out there is more to  communication than words.  Yeah you knew that already.

Develop mindfulness and introspection- the simplest starting point is being quiet and counting breaths/listening a form of meditation.  The idea in counting breaths is to quiet one’s mind and connect to one’s self.  You will start to be self aware more often.  This will aid in connecting to your emotions, communication, decision making, extrapolating and interpolating consequences more fully, self love, compassion, empathy. 
  • Eg.,” They gang teased Fred all morning.  In gym class I laughed and joined in, pushing him in the back and kicking him in the butt. I felt guilty and ashamed of myself later.”
  • “Again yesterday the gang teased Fred all morning.  In gym class I told them to leave him alone and they teased me too the rest of the day.  They said I must be Gay too. I felt a little scared and embarrassed  and belittled.  This morning I felt good about my decision, no guilt.”
  • Comparative:  I’d rather feel scared, embarrassed and belittled than guilty and ashamed of myself. 
  • Acting on positivity (Leadership): “ I think I’ll invite Fred to my and Jack’s table for chemistry” ” I think I’ll blog about bullying”;”I think I’ll start an anti bully group. “
Every person starting in their childhood should understand:
  • My body is my own.  I don’t have to be socially polite about how I want to be  touched.  I do not have to explain it or validate how I feel.   Many very important boundaries are under attack starting as young as 9 months old.   We don't know the harm we are doing particularly to women.  Have you ever told a child in your life to hug a relative or friend?  Your request is met by a resounding "No! I don't want to!"  Do you order them or cajole them into hugging anyway?  You are training up a victim.  The message you are inadvertently saying, "you are not in control of your body; someone else is."
  • Being wrong does not mean I am bad, immoral, stupid or inferior.
  • I am responsible for what I think  how I act and respond.  
  • Other people are responsible for  what they think, how they act and respond.

Disciplined self-talk and healthy affirmation and visualization are skills.  Many people repeat bad messages that lead to poor self esteem, many times from caregivers.  “You’re such a loser, what’s wrong with you? I knew you’d get it wrong”-get internalized; “I’m such a loser, what’s wrong with me, I knew I’d get it wrong.”
Disciplined self talk
  • I’m a winner, I noticed how beautiful it was today, I listened to my heart, I stuck up for Fred last week. 
  • Who doesn’t get things wrong, I mean really?  That just means I have one less obstacle on the way to a solution.
So there are lots of other skills you read about.  To me though if these things above are working in the right environment ideally kids will pick healthy environments and friends or at least know they’ve made not so great decisions.I’m remiss in not proffering a discussion on what would be cultivating an environment to build these skills.  Oh well.

Ending National Coming Out Day? Get Outta Town!

Image result for national coming out day

Matthew H. Birkhold is an openly gay assistant professor at Ohio State University.  Read his WaPo OpEd here.
I read his proposal to end National Coming Out Day with interest but in the end I was a bit confused and wholeheartedly disagreeing.  
In one breath while affirming that NCOD “...continues to affirm our lives, worth and dignity,” and through his interpersonal experiences, affirming that coming out is healthy and cathartic; Prof. Birkhold in the next breath states; “Coming out,” we’ve been trained, is one of the most important parts of a gay person’s life — something he or she gets to do on his or her own terms, when ready.”
“We’ve been trained?”  This phrase seems cynical at best.  It’s as if some conservative thinker would tell folk, “you’ve been trained that government cheese is good but you actually live in the devil spawned welfare state... and government cheese continues to affirm your lives, worth and dignity.”  
Let’s change the context for a moment and talk about coming out in terms of personal congruency and self actualization.  
Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was a humanistic psychologist who agreed with the main assumptions of Abraham Maslow, but added that for a person to "grow", they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood)..
 Carl Rogers stated that the personality is like a triangle made up of the real self, the perceived self, and ideal self. According to Rogers, when there is a good fit between all three components, the person has congruence. This is a healthy state of being and helps people continue to progress toward self-actualization.
Being real with one’s self is healthy and being in an  an environment to walk out or carry out that truth is also, ergo National Coming Out Day, a tool to accomplish this.
Although he readily admits the benefits of coming out Birkhold has a better idea:  “stop coming out.”  He seems to assert that America is a safer place in 2017. Coming Out day has outlived its usefulness therefore away with it.  Birkhold thinks that... “for people in different circumstances, this day might provide much-needed support and strength.”  OK... so  forget about them, it’s all about him and his privilege or comfort, or what is he saying?
Safer doesn't mean safe. Although Birkhold tips his hat to his own privilege as a well paid, well educated, gay college professor at a liberal college, noting, “writing from a place of social, institutional and personal security;” he indeed stops shy of outing it as privilege. So let’s end, “we shall overcome and no justice, no peace"  ignoring police brutality because the streets are safer than they used to be? Parenthetically the streets are not safer for the powerless. He also asserts that coming out is stigmatizing. Possibly this perception may be more to his point than not needing National Coming Out Day since we are in a kinder gentler America.  Many are avoiding coming out effectively continuing to remain in hiding often in fear or self loathing.  
Birkhold asserts “Coming out” implicitly announces — to LGBTQ individuals, allies and enemies — that gay people are aberrant. Our homosexuality is so different that we must proclaim it; heterosexuality, however, is normal and expected... “  It ain’t necessarily so but I agree.. a little.  I agree that to “enemies” who I’d like to define as brainwashed and uninformed this is often perceived as  gay people being aberrant.   
In years passed heterosexuality was not only normal, it was the norm, two different concepts. It is still considered the norm but the mantle of non-aberrant status is falling by the wayside giving into the truth of  a sexual continuum and not an “either or” sexual universe.  The general population is becoming more aware of such concepts as “gender fluid, sexual orientation” and relatively new vocabulary as “cisgender” (Naw, look it up.)  enters popular conversation and “sexual orientation” replaces “sexual preference.”   Much of the general population is unaware that there is no dualism in sexuality,  one is either entirely male or female or whatever is  in between, gay, lesbian, transgender or fluid.  It was only 44 years ago this Dec 2017 that being gay  came out of DSMII as aberrant.  Where is the DSM on most people’s radar?  A’ight I’ll give you this one:
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.
  Coming in contact with this broader understanding doesn’t mean you embrace it or even believe it.
In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT
According to Gary J. Gates, Gallup News 4.1% of Americans identify as LGBT.  In 2012 the number identifying was 3.5%. This is a significant jump.  By 2058 10% of the population will be identifying as LGBTQ. However many see our American society falling to the enslaught of the “Gay agenda.”    If you have a phobia here this number shows how many people are are identifying, not how many people are “turning gay.”

To quote many pastors and religious folk, “The Devil is busy yall!”
Romans 1:22-28King James Version (KJV)  Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, ...  Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves...

This worldview exists on any given sunday throughout the U.S. sans Jamie Fox and Al Pacino.  So there’s that;  A whole bunch of people don’t give a good goddamn what science says in this area.  I’m not talkin’ Westboro “God Hates Fags” churches.  I’m talkin’ “Love the sinner hate the sin” churches that exist in abundance brothas and sistas.

As an African American I relate this conversation to the 60s, many labeled us racist, felt something was wrong with us that we shouted, I Am Somebody!  I’m Black and I’m Proud!  At what point does this message need to stop what is it’s shelflife?  This language has be displaced by “Queens and Kings” mindset in many parts of the black community.  Now that we’ve established, at least rhetorically that we are human and being black is a source of pride we struggle to affirm our history does not start in slavery but in the rich culture and monarchies of Africa. and we should respect each other as royalty, especial in marriage and other interpersonal reltionships.  I think it no coincidence we levitate to Egypt in light of the white washing of Egypt in the movies vis a vis Liz Taylor, Yule Brenner, Charlton Heston and many others.  Note this commercial for Cleopatra soap from the 90s in which Cleo is white but the servant pouring the water has lots of melanin. Regardless of history Cleopatra soap is pretty sure that many of the servants are black.
Changes in the law are not indicators of social progress.  As any mystic worth her salt will tell you,  you can not legislate righteousness.  Social change comes through appealing to and challenging one’s humanity.  If you don’t know LGBTQ people you are subject to prejudice, bigotry and misinformation.  
Birkhold notes that current polls suggest most Americans consider same-sex relations morally acceptable and that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. He points to a  Gallup survey indicating that most Americans favor  new laws to reduce discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.”  Again to be clear laws don’t reduce discrimination they may reduce acts of discrimintion and yes if they do we need them.
 I prefer to see the proverbial glass partially empty for safety’s sake right now. While believing “we shall overcome” let’s see how far away overcoming is before the end of the struggle is officially anounced.
Here is another statistic; 19.4% of hate crimes in 2015 were based on sexual orientation bias (17.7%) and gender identity bias (1.7). There were 7,121 victims with 5,818 single bias incidents. Over 1,100 people were victimized in our kinder gentler USA.  A surprisingly high percentage considering the Williams Institute estimates that 3.8 percent of the U.S. identifies as LGBTQ.
Though I shouldn’t dignify this with a comment, to proffer, “Straight people don’t come out. Why should gay people?” is a false comparison at best.  Of course straight people don’t come out our culture assumes unless otherwise noted everyone is straight. People assume the traffic light, the gas mask (Garrett Morgan), the first successful open heart surgery (Daniel Hale Williams), and the popular expression, “the real McCoy typically meaning the real thing,  refer to white men.  They are black men.
Here are two more suggestion to add to Prof. Birkhold’s idea. Number 1) Make it a national holiday... too soon? 2) Imagine if in the early years of  National Coming Out Day it had begun in a rites of passage flavored event recognizing the new freedom, the challenges and solidarity of being LGBTQ being out.  The emphasis was centered on coming out to one’s self damn the rest of the world.   It could happen!  Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
“  Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community.”
Has it been successful? Well how does one measure success, does one need to measure it?  It’s been around since 1966 and in 2017 a significant number of black folk have not participated in a Kwanzaa event.  A signifcant number, however, have made it central to their holiday activities and many embrace it as a rule of thumb.  I would say it is successful.
One thing that makes identity and orientation in this arena seem aberrant has more to do with the fact that LG don’t always readily accept T.  Look at the beginning of the fight for equality and acceptance in LGBTQ and you will see Transgender folk often felt kicked to the curb, pushed to the back of the line.  As Prof. Birkhold shows, LGBTQ sounds good together and has a flow but they are more than letters and more than a monolith of ideas, points of view and experiences.
  1. It can improve your mental health.
  2. Coming out is a part of personal empowerment.
  3. Everytime someone comes out they are affirming their humanity and human rights to be unapologetically, celebratorily of who they are.  They may no longer feel that they have to hide their every move.
  4. Everytime someone comes out it is a signal to those hiding that you’re ok and you are not alone.
  5. the more people that identified as LGBTQ the more the view of sexual status quo broadens.
  6. As more and more people are “out” and discussions... and arguments happen the arc toward truth becomes stronger.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Los Dos Fronteras- Great Service-
Great Food. Cleveland Ohio
Is Tipping a motivator?
In restaurants tip is often "known" to be mean To Insure Promptness or To Insure Prompt Service. Completely false etymology but I think many servers work on this assumption, I did and I extrapolated.  Prompt courteous proactive.. etc., this would never happen -5 Easy Pieces [Page on bit.ly]
I even got manicures so my hands looked purty... Ok I liked the attention too.  Good servers are well versed in all of the menu items and many restaurants have regular food and alcohol tasting for wait staff so they know.  I think minimum wage for severs/waitstaff is up to $2.28 as of 2016.  It is anticipated servers will make up to at least the legal minimum wage .

Don't wait for the experience to totally go south before you say something. ... 5 Easy pieces again:  Page on bit.ly .. Have to be out the door for a movie in 45 minutes?.. ask can that be done.   I have a friend who at seating  is known to tell the server, "ya know what I can be labor intensive could you just keep that in mind and glance over a lot?"

What the hell!? All ya have to do is bring.. the food.. to the table!
Decent servers have an extraordinary skill set and it ain't always as easy as it looks.
Many things can keep the food from getting to the table on time.
Anything from cook staff that is "in the weeds," meaning behind on orders, to a server taking out your party's meal meant for you, to to a host/hostess who doesn't seat evenly or can't seat evenly. When a server gets "slammed," (mean a server or the restaurant is seated all at one time)  say with 4 "four-tops" (4 tables seating 4 people each) in a fine dining store it can be difficult to say the least.  
Sometimes a restaurant kitchen sounds like the floor of the new york stock exchange from  .. the hostess barking orders to bussers, servers fussing with the chef about timing appetizers and meals, chef fussing with server about protocol or something, sous chef yelling to line cooks, to line cooks barking out appetizer orders and meals.
Scenario: The server leaves the kitchen on the way from dropping off  orders at the "back of the house" which is usually at the very back of the house, then negotiates through tables to the bar which sometimes is.. wait for it.. at the front of the house, where often one has to queue for drinks, to his or her tables and back to the kitchen with a single plate, "she says this is supposed to be medium rare, it's medium instead," on the way back through the dining room, "excuse me Dude, we have someone else here can you grab a chair and shit?"
What I look for
I look for a server who addresses the table within in a few minutes of being seated, (Whether or not they can serve the table right then) who is attentive and on the floor for me to connect with every so often and who doesn't keep me waiting when I want to leave.
We've all had the server who was 15 minutes getting to the table in a half empty restaurant, the apps are late, the meal is cold, s/he didn't show up  for us to ask for whatever or inform them the soup never came and made us wait on the check... possibly they're not getting a tip.
What I don't look for 
So often you will see that your order comes out after another table even those yours went in first.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, a none issue, let it go.  If you are African-American as I am even though there have been several well documented cases  of prejudice causing this... usually it's not an issue.  Some will remember the 54 million dollar lawsuit Denny's lost in 1994.  The final straw turning public opinion against this subsidiary of Flagstar Companies of Spartanburg, S.C., was when six black Secret Service agents assigned to President Clinton's detail were refused a table at a Denny's in Annapolis. Md., while their white Secret Service colleagues were seated and served.  
  It is "well known, yall don't tip. " I tested this stereotype at a few restaurants and on average found it was not true though the  perception was there.  With many  servers having this perception this can lead to slack service which can lead to the self fulfilling prophecy of no tip. 
Teamwork? We ain't got no teamwork... we don't need to show you no stinkin' teamwork!
Restaurants can't excel without it.  In many restaurants there is a lot of teamwork between servers and some other server helps tend your table so issues  are mostly avoided. Depending on the system this is driven by the hostess/host and front of the house mgr for making the floor run smoothly.
  • I've been know to "under" tip and write comments on the bill so the server knows when the service is just excruciating.  If you don't feel like writing/talking to the manager three pennies in a row or column is a somewhat recognized signal  that let's the server know it was intentional. I usually overtip a bit. Realize that servers often tip the bussers, the hostess, the bartender out of their tips.  I also feel everyone's allowed a bad day, right?  When I was poor I was not so nonchalant.
  • When I go to places that are not fine dining and there are "specials" (actually fine dining houses do this often) or coupons, I tip on the original price of the item.  So if it is 2 for 1 at $30 I tip on $60.  If the appetizer was accidental laced with arsenic and the manager takes it off the bill, I tip as if it was on the bill.  A 15% tip is the standard for a server in the USA.  In my opinion you don't need a tip calculator.  I round up to the nearest number with a zero divide by two and add the two together... don't forget to move the decimal point... I'm pretty sure no one will.  Eg., If my bill is $125 I round up to $130/2=$65, $130+$65=$195. Move the decimal=$19.50... for me I'm tipping $20. Easy peasy.  The actually 15% on $125 is $18.75. If you're frugal and round down 15% of $120= $18. We're talkin a $2 difference from top to bottom.
  • I also view tipping as a subsidy to the restaurateur.  It pads the pockets of indies and chains alike.  No way they would get quality staff at minimum wage in a fine dining establishment.  I've know some struggling restaurateurs but no poor ones.  There is a trend that is more or less commonplace now that I resist... tipping the owner.  This goes for service industry period, restaurants, nail salons, and more.  I read a columnist saying not to tip was passe.  I don't understand AT ALL.  In a capitalist society why do I just give the owner more money on general principle who is charging me the most s/he can get away with and not getting underpaid like the staff?   I'm sure they appreciate it like I appreciate a free meal for my party of five on general principal.  The last time that happened was..about never.
  • Parenthetically it is not uncommon for a server to get even with rude customers by making them wait, not attending the table, foregoing the tip in favor of the good feeling from sticking it to an elitist, belligerent client.
  • Although I've heard that it happens I've never ever seen a server spit in food or anything of the nature. Cooks dropping stuff on the floor and wanting to reuse it. A $15 steak... is a $15 steak .. ur ah ahem.. time to go folks.