Show some respect for the brave.

The sign said “hot coffee,” the door was open, and the music was loud.

I heard a young woman belting out the final few words of a classic folk song and I stopped in my tracks. I peeked through the doorway and saw a performance in progress. Open mic night, it appeared.

I had the whole evening open and not much to do, so I slipped inside and ordered a drink. The young woman finished her number and made her way offstage. The proprietor announced the next performer.

An older woman took the stage. She began to sing.

It was not good.

Actually, it was quite awful.

She seemed to be completely tone-deaf and made frequent mistakes, awkwardly stopping and then re-starting various songs on her guitar. She had no charming banter in between songs. No stories. No charisma. The whole situation felt like such a bummer, especially compared with the last performer, who was so soulful and mesmerizing. The last one had been so good. This was so… not.

I felt myself cringing in my chair, feeling worried and embarrassed for the current performer. I glanced around the room, eyeing other people, expecting to see smirking, laughter, or people quietly mocking her.

Nobody was.

To the contrary, everyone listened politely, applauding often, nodding, smiling, sipping their beverages and just giving this woman the time and space to do her thing.

I felt like I had stepped into an alternate universe.

How could this be? Why were these people being so gracious, so kind?

In another coffee shop, in another city — say, Los Angeles, where I grew up — this woman would have been booed offstage before the end of her first song.

Then I realized, swiftly and uncomfortably:

I’m the problem here. Not the performer, and not the other people in this room.

I’m being a bully.

I might not be doing it out loud, in words, or in actions, but secretly, privately, inside my own mind, I am cruelly bullying this performer. Thinking all kinds of mean things about her. Mocking her. Pitying her. And why?

She is courageously standing onstage — and what am I doing?

Drinking a coffee, hiding in the shadows.

Who am I to judge?

Who am I to say that her voice is “good” or “bad” or that her art is “worthy” or “not worthy”?

I felt a voice enter into my mind — my intuition, or maybe God, or maybe a sudden remembrance of something that someone said to me long ago — and I specifically heard the following phrase:

Show some respect for the brave.

Good advice.

Humbling advice.

I hope, going forward, that I will remember this woman, that night, and those words.

I hope I don’t get pulled back into the undertow of bad habits, snarky-ness, meanness, or bullying of any kind.

I hope I remember that anyone who is brave enough to stand in front of the world — to read a poem, to share a story, to sing a song, or to (gasp!) give something a try even if they’re not “perfect” yet — deserves my respect.

It doesn’t matter if I think it’s “good” or not. That’s not the point.

Courage, in any form — on key or out of tune, shaky or impeccable — is an extraordinary thing to behold and if you’re fortunate enough to bear witness to such a moment, put down your phone, set down your drink, shut up and listen.

One day, when you are attempting something big, challenging, awkward, or just unsteady and new, you might be grateful that people offer that same respect to you.

I hope I remember that, too.