Monday, June 4, 2012

Hey There -- I AM those bums!

I just commented on something Cliff inserted into a post about the US Post Office.  That comment led me to choose this entry over the next best alternative (sleep), so here goes.

There is a certain category of things people say that, for lack of a better, more descriptive phrase, I will call "throwaway comments."  They're just what the name implies, and they're usually based on old stereotypes, old legends, old memes, or just received wisdom that carries on, even in the face of a lot of contrary evidence we could observe if we chose to.

The Post Office is a perfect example.  How often is the USPS the butt of jokes, whether it's about things getting lost, being misdelivered, employees having mental health issues, or whatever else someone thinks is funny?  But think back honestly to ALL the years you've used their service...what has the ratio of good experiences to bad ones really been?  Like you, I use the service less and less with time, but I'm still pretty amazed to think about something going from my hands early in the week into the mailbox at the end of the driveway of a friend in California with days to spare before the weekend, all for less than the cost of a candy bar.  So when a lot of people make jokes about the Post Office, they're kind of doing what people do when they make jokes about 8-tracks, Spam, or Betamax...just saying something they think is funny because it often precedes the laugh tracks on mindless sitcoms.  There isn't any malice behind it, but there often isn't any real thought there, either.

And from there, the list goes on.  Bad service at the RMV?  No matter how many times I go there and find that not to be the case, the vision that was my brain...still remains.  Cabbies' driving ability, tastiness of food served on airplanes, the honesty of auto mechanics, etc.  You get the idea.

One frequent theme we've all either said or heard is the black hole associated with civil servants.  Just think back to that warehouse from the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- you secretly fear that when you bring a check to City Hall, or you call into some office at Ashburton Place, that your correspondence will somehow be ignored/mistreated/mishandled, etc.  It's the old "bums at City Hall bit" that everyone will kind of nod along to if you bring it up as part of a story.  Within corporations, I'm sure there's an equivalent (within the Nat'l Guard, for instance, the part-time soldiers always say this about the full-time soldiers, no matter how responsive or unresponsive they actually might be).

Anyway, someone actually did this yesterday via online media (I am purposefully going to stay very vague here, out of respect for the purpose in writing this is to make a point, not to dredge anything up).  On a thread regarding an issue that I'm very familiar with, someone made a "throwaway comment" about how he had tried to find out about the issue, but had reached out to "the bums on Merrimack Street" (not his actual words) but of course was met with nothing but radio silence.

But here was the rub -- I knew the person, I knew the topic, and had personally corresponded with him on it.  Rather than make a virtual scene, I politely referenced some back-and-forth communications we had had, and offered to stay in further touch if need be.

Some follow-on discussions led to the person unilaterally deciding to delete the initial comment after admitting that "I never heard back" was a shorthand throwaway for multiple written and telephonic correspondences.  Admittedly, that previous back-and-forth had ended without the issue being satisfactorily resolved, which led to some frustration, but what the person said wasn't even a half-truth or part-truth.  What made it even worse was that the volley had actually ended with the ball on his side of the net, for what it's worth.

At no point was any malice intended on his part, and he never mentioned my name or office specifically, which is why I am staying as high above the fray here as possible and almost didn't even write this blog entry.

So what's my point?  What am I getting at here?

Especially in the on-line world, in which the words you write tend to *stick around* in a way they don't when you talk with your friends in person or over the phone, exercise some caution about things you say but either don't really mean or that you know aren't really true.

If you're willing to stand by your words about that lost letter you know you mailed, or that surly desk clerk at the RMV, or the annoying sales person who wouldn't let you get away, or a shady mechanic who gave you questionable service, then by all means write to your heart's content.

But if that wasn't actually the case, resist the urge to take the cheap shot against the easy target.


Because "dem bums" might also communicate via those same means, and challenge what you intended just as a throwaway sort of afterthought.  If you're lucky, they'll be thoughtful and calm enough to take a measured approach...they'll forgive and quickly move on (but not before writing a lengthy blog entry about the experience!)  However, someone with a lighter 'edit' button, or a testier temper, or just less prone to thinking about why something happens, might not take it so well.  A bridge that you might need to cross some day could be burned.

So own your words.  If you can truly live by the motto, "I don't say all the things I think, but I do think all the things I say" your sincerity and authenticity will shine through as important foundations of your character.  

1 comment:

kad barma said...

Let me know if you'd like to see the delivery confirmation for the Priority Mail envelope I sent on January 25th, 2012 dated May 8th 2012. Sometimes the "throwaway" comments are more polite than is deserved. The USPS is broken.