I had an incredible lunch last week with my husband, sister-in-law and mother-in-law at an amazing restaurant for salads and burgers, Hillstone in Denver. The food and service were both outstanding, and we noticed how well-groomed all the servers were, with their hair either cut short and gelled or tied back in crisp buns or braided ponytails. They looked unusually professional in contrast to the waitperson at the previous restaurant we had eaten at, where we were served by a man with messy hair wearing a one-shouldered sleeveless top with all of his tattoos on proud display. 

As we left the restaurant, I was surprised to see a dress-code card on display at the hostess stand…

To enhance the experience of all of our guests we ask that you respect our dress code. We suggest collared shirts for gentlemen. We consider tank tops, overly provocative clothing, boldly logoed athletic attire, and flip-flops too informal for the dining experience we plan to provide. We do not allow gentlemen to wear hats in the dining room. Your comfort is our priority: however, we do not feel that overly casual attire is appropriate for dining in our restaurant.

Is it possible that someone has the courage to say “no” in our don’t-hurt-anybody’s-feelings society? That the owners of Hillstone have the “audacity” to proudly say that there may be some who are not welcome in a world that is rapidly homogenizing our very existence by forcing, either through law or social pressure, acceptance of all-comers anywhere anytime, qualified or not. Hillstone wasn’t rude about it. The owners simply and respectfully stated their rules for acceptable behavior and welcomed those who choose to follow those rules to participate.

I am not a believer in segregation. I am a believer in equal opportunity. I am not a believer in complaining that someone won’t play with you…let you into his/her club…or include you in his activity. During my school years, I was not included in certain cliques or activities. I found other groups and activities. Same with my children. As an adult, my husband and I had to go through the application and acceptance process for admittance to our sailing club…and if we ever get good enough at golf, we may choose to go through the same process again, searching for an environment that “fits” us, both physically and socially, and understanding that not all clubs will be the right fit. Sometimes you’re not invited to the party. It may hurt, but then again, do you want to go to a place where you do not fit in?

Or worse, do you want to put people at risk, all in the name of protecting someone from being told “no”?  A friend’s daughter was captain of her college club ski team. When an unqualified skier wanted to join the team, she could not be refused, because it was “club.” However, there were multiple instances in which this young woman put other skiers at risk due to her lack of racing skills. Similarly, last year in Hanover Park, NJ, a mom complained when her daughter didn’t make the elite cheerleading squad. In response, the school board changed the rule to include all 11th– and 12th-grade cheerleaders no matter their skill level. Its decision was about inclusion, but my concern is something a little different. Besides sending the message that extra effort is not required to those who had practiced and trained, the decision put the team at risk for injury. It meant either risking the safety of unqualified team members who were participating in a dangerous and technical sport or reducing the team’s performance level in order to choreograph to the lowest skill level in order to keep all participants safe.

It is OK to have standards of excellence. It is OK to have rules of order. It is OK to have elite groups. We are not all elite at everything. I am 5′ 4″ and will never be a center on a basketball team. Nor do I have the appropriate skills or talent to launch satellites, decorate wedding cakes or perform an appendectomy, let alone open-heart surgery. But others have those skills. 

High standards and specialization have allowed societies to evolve and prosper. In the beginning, people were generalists—they all hunted and gathered. But as groups formed, people found that individuals had different skill sets. Some were great hunters, some were good at creating stone tools, while others were healers or hut builders. These individuals had shared interests.

Fast-forward to today when putting together a group of like-minded people who share interests and ideas allows them to create exciting things together. That’s what user groups throughout the technology industry are made for. It is not elitist or exclusionary to form groups. It’s simply camaraderie and connection. We cannot continue to excel as a society if we do not have standards and expectations that must be met. If anything is acceptable, then there is no need to strive for improvement. Instead we slide into mass mediocrity at best—and mass failure at worst.

Of course, that means that sometimes we will be held accountable to those standards. And sometimes extra effort will be required. And sometimes things won’t go as we desire. Just because we want something to go our way, does not mean it does.

There was an Off-Broadway show that I saw many years ago called Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You. In it was a life-changing line for me. Sister Mary was reading a series of “Questions for the Sister” and then given answers, as though it was an audience Q&A. 

Question: “Does God answer all of my prayers?”

Answer: “Yes. Sometimes the answer is no.”

It’s up to each of us to chart our courses and make our choices, understanding that sometimes the answer will be “no.”