Tuesday, April 01, 2008

This is not an April Fools' joke. Though I wish it were. Or...

...two more views of social Darwinism not at work.

Scene 1
: I'm in the post office this morning, the second person in a line that stretches back almost to the door; all told, there are six or seven of us. We're being waited on—in theory, anyway—by a single postal worker.

That single postal worker is pursuing an extended conversation with the patron now at the counter, who, it becomes apparent, is an off-duty colleague. They're discussing lawsuits. It seems that the on-duty postal worker is in the midst of some unspecified grievance against the Postal Service, which has accused him of—again, I feel the need to emphasize that I am not making this up—poor performance and a lack of professionalism. He is incensed by this outrageous besmirchment of his competency and reputation, and is not going to take it lying down. His off-duty colleague, who clearly has finished whatever business brought him to the post office this morning, commiserates. Together they bemoan what an unfair, slave-driving outfit the Postal Service can be. Meanwhile, people continue to line up behind me.

Scene 2: Over the weekend I go to McDonald's for a steak-egg-and-cheese bagel. (If you haven't tried them because you're vaguely troubled by the notion of what McDonald's might serve up in the name of "steak," I'm telling you, they're shockingly good.) The line at the drive-through is longer than the line at the post office in Scene 1 above, so I decide to go inside and take my chances at the counter. Here too there's a single line, but it feeds alternately to the two counter workers. The counter worker I end up getting has Down Syndrome. I'm not being hyperbolic or snide. I'm stating fact: He is a person with the visible and auditory manifestations of Down Syndrome. As it develops, this is not good news for me because I have a coupon, and though the item I want to order is covered by the coupon, it is not specifically mentioned on the coupon. It's listed generically as "...or other breakfast value meal." I can't make the boy with Down Syndrome understand this. He insists that in order to take advantage of the coupon, I must order one of the meals that is specifically listed on the coupon. I tell him this can't be so, since I've used the same exact coupon twice before in recent weeks and encountered no such objection. It doesn't matter; he answers each of my protestations with the same rote language. I can see that the manager at the back of the kitchen area has her hands full, feverishly working to keep up with the drive-through orders, so I don't push the issue. I don't use the coupon this time; I simply order two different meals and pay full price for both.

So here are today's questions, which I don't necessarily intend to be rhetorical: Am I—are we—supposed to put up with this in the name of being "sensitive," "inclusive" and "open-minded"? Must we tolerate the loss of efficiency that flows from being more understanding of, and making greater allowances for, individual quirks and weaknesses? In scene 1, why does the postal worker not see the irony of it all? (Or are we wrong to be impatient when he so clearly needs to vent.) In scene 2, should the rest of us accept having to make do with shoddy service so that a person with Down Syndrome can have a job?

Seems to me that all of this goes hand in hand with the "now be nice!" social schema that came directly out of self-help: a schema in which there are no losers, where we're all equally entitled to have superior self-esteem, and the most important thing in life is to not hurt people's feelings.



Chad Hogg said...

Scene 1 is absurd but, sadly, not surprising. I would guess that the postal worker's most significant problem is not lack of insight, but rather lack of motivation. He will be paid the same whether the line is processed efficiently or not, and so the conversation is a higher priority for him. Although the postal service has apparently warned him about his performance, I would guess that it is unlikely that his future employment is in serious jeopardy, or that (unless someone such as yourself tells them) his superiors will be aware of the backlog this morning. Being more concerned with "doing your time" than doing a good job seems to be epidemic.

In the second scene, I think you are a bit harsh. While you may not have gotten the best service in this somewhat rare case, the cashier you were arguing with is probably one of the better employees at the franchise. If they were able to find someone more qualified who was willing to work for the same wage, they probably would have hired him or her. If you are unwilling to accept a certain level of incompetence compared to yourself, you may need to take your business to a more upscale establishment.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I can only sympathize. My local Curves is like something out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: one staff member is enthusiastic and talks just enough to the members to show that she's engaged; one, clearly a former aerobics instructor or personal trainer who's humiliated to even be associated with a bunch of (typically) older, out-of-shape women, sits at the desk with her back to the room and never even makes eye contact with, much less adresses, the members; and the third never, ever shuts up, following the members into and around the circuit and even to the bathroom door while barraging them with an unceasing flow of inconsequential and self-referential commentary. I've thought many times of corralling the franchise owner on her occasional visits and asking if she couldn't speak to Bears #2 and 3, but especially #3, but of course have not done so because I'm trying to "be nice." Instead, I'm contemplating trying to discover the staff's schedules so I can avoid exercising when Bear #3is in residence. Pathetic of me, I know, but I was raised in a be-nice culture and I don't want to get an older lady in trouble when it might compromise her only source of income. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Touchy, touchy topic today...

Logic tells me to take my business elsewhere. In one case, the post office, you have a monopoly and your only choice is to drive to a further post office, which isn't really fare. The other is to go to another fast food joint, which are a dime a dozen, (since not only did they hire someone unable to the job, but left them selves so shorthanded that they had no one to supervise him.

A friend of mine was dating a guy with a hunchback recently and as an observation I had pointed out that it was a significant change from her usual GQ type of guy. She got mad at me of course for stating the obvious, and I couldn't help wondering if she felt more embarrassed by her reasons for being with him (pity or obligation) than the clear distinction in her choice that I noticed.

So yeah, I know the feeling of not being allowed to point out an obvious fact, due to the protection of someone's feelings that don't even know they are being protected.

Steven Sashen said...

Perhaps the more relevant question is: Should events like this cause me to rethink my position on handgun ownership and concealed weapons laws?

Matt Dick said...

I think there are different answers for each:

1) This is gross incompetent that makes my irony gland want to explode. This would be a good use of the ubiquitous video camera to be used at this person's inquest.

2) I think a business like McDonald's is to be praised for giving an opportunity to those of who are disadvantaged mentally. I think it might be incumbent upon them however, to put them in a position that won't egregiously slow down the process of customer interaction. If that means they do some other non time-critical task, that would work. What would also work is to put him in charge of the register during a time when it is less busy and he can get help when he needs it, or he can spend more time with each transaction. If you'd gone in there during a non-busy time, and your interaction had taken an extra half-minute because he had to consult the manager, I don't think it would have annoyed you much.

I am probably wrong.


RevRon's Rants said...

Scene 1 - Advise the local postmaster of the situation (AFTER your parcel has passed beyond chatty Charlie's grasp).

Scene 2 - Wait until the veins in your forehead recede to normal size, then call the manager & advise him/her that the cashier might need more training. Seems like a better alternative to getting the guy fired.

While I demand professional service from a professional, I don't really expect it from a minimum-wage burger slinger. Especially given what currently passes for a work ethic (on BOTH sides of the paycheck), quasi-pleasant mediocrity is acceptable, so long as the food is fresh. And I do like the idea that a person with a handicap has the opportunity to experience success at something, even if that something constitutes a job I wouldn't want. If I were so tight on funds that I couldn't afford the difference in price, I'd probably suggest that the manager clear up the situation. But if all it costs me is a dollar or so - or a few extra moments - I wouldn't sweat it.

Anonymous said...

You know the real April Fool's joke here? It's watching everyone display the exact syndrome Steve is talking about: going out of their way to be oh so careful in their responses, so as not to offend.

The real answer here should be simple: You get the job if you earn it, and you keep it for as long as you continue to earn it. Period, end of story. Any other answer leads us down a long and dangerous road, to exactly the kind of outcome Steve describes in his scenes.

Jeremy Smalling said...

Jesus then went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice, "Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God!" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Be quiet! Come out of him!" Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all amazed and said to one another, "What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out." And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient.

May the Grace and Peace of God the Father in His only Son Jesus Christ be with you through the power of His Holy Spirit. Amen.

Steve Salerno said...

Jeremy, I let this one through--though I'm still not entirely sure why. This isn't the place to simply regurgitate scripture. So no more of this. OK? You're welcome to participate and to make relevant religion-tinged points--IN YOUR OWN VOICE--when the subject warrants it. But if you keep sending through this type of material, I'll just reject it.

Carl said...

Steve I agree with you 1000%, I don't understand why retards have to have jobs. It slows everything down for everybody and if you even complain about it people treat you like you're the crazy one! I'm in public service and there's a lot of waste there too no question, but when you hire someone who's handicapped to begin with what's the best you can expect?

Steve Salerno said...

Well, Carl, I don't think you do your arguments any favors by incorporating acrid terms like "retards," but look, your basic point, such as it is, is well taken.

Akhetnu said...

1. The worker should be fired since such behavior is why they are on notice in the first place.

2. I generally am in agreement with Matt Dick that those with disabilities who really do want to work, should be given jobs that do not inconvenience the customer.

But if no such jobs are available or they cannot manage any at all, then they are legally entitled to SSI disability pay. It makes no sense to try to force them on a job they cannot do.

Yekaterina said...

The attitude I'm seeing here today is one of I am entitled to not have to wait, I am entitled to have everyone around me be the way I want them to be, (efficient, non-chatty, non-judgemental, mentally capable) and boy am I nice when I don't complain when it is not so.

I know a woman who is a very intelligent, efficient, high acheiver sort of person who is of the opinion that she is surrounded by incompetent idiots at all times, but she never seems to notice when she doesn't live up to her own standards or when she is the incompetent one in someone else's equation.

Maybe if we got rid of this "the world revolves around me" attitude we would see that like it or not the postal worker has priorities different than our own and that the guy with Down Syndrome has his one life to lead just like the rest of us and both of these people have the right to their very own "pursuit of happiness" regardless of the inconvieniences it causes us.

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps the ugly sister of Roger's April Fool's joke (that we varnish over truth in our efforts to appear politically correct) is our inability to consider that rejecting political correctness doesn't mean abandoning compassion.

Is the inconvenience we suffer at the hands of those "retards" really that severe? Is our quality of life so diminished by it?

It was a burger joint, fer chrissake! Not a nuclear reactor control room or an operating room. Is it any more realistic to *demand* excellence from everyone we encounter than it is to tell everyone that they can achieve excellence, as do the hustledorks?

Steve Salerno said...

It's interesting to see the "compassionate conservative" backlash that has developed as this thread moved along. (And relax, guys/gals--I'm not using the "cc" label in a literal sense.) But that's why I made sure to emphasize that I was posing my questions rhetorically. Though I feel a distinct irritation when I'm confronted with public-service inefficiency...I also end up hating myself for it in the morning, as the saying goes. Ron and Ykaterina make excellent points. I guess here--as in other areas--it comes down to balance.

But then this is the same problem we have with self-help overall: How does one teach "balance"? Even in concept, it's such a huge gray area, and when invoked on an individual basis, in different settings, it becomes almost impossible to apply. How much irritation am I "entitled" to feel when a mentally challenged worker screws up my order? At what point do I go to his/her manager? And even in the case of the postal worker: Is he really supposed to just eat his frustrations and personal pain so that I can get my letter into the mail 2 or 3 minutes sooner? (But then...what would happen if we allowed everybody the opportunity to "vent" all day long! Nothing would ever get done.)

I guess what I'm asking is this: Balance is a very nice word, and as we know, it's ubiquitous these days. But how do you make relevant rules out of it in real life?

Anonymous said...

I'm with Yekaterina, Steve, at least in the McDonald's scenario. Don't like the service? Vote with your feet.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, but now, see, Anon, that's kind of the lily-livered way out here, isn't it? "Vote with my feet"? Because all I'm doing in that case--assuming I'm one of a number of people who vote similarly--is pawning off the decision on McDonald's. (I don't know if that's the right expression, but it's what came to mind.) If enough of us vote with our feet, and cross the street to Burger King, where there are no "retards" employed, then that forces McDonald's hand. I think the larger question is: Is society as a whole supposed to tolerate this as a partial cost of "being a compassionate people"?

RevRon's Rants said...

"Is society as a whole supposed to tolerate this as a partial cost of "being a compassionate people"?"

In a word, no. It isn't the job of society to determine an individual's compassion level, at least not until the *lack* of compassion rises to the level of actually injuring another. It's up to the individual. That "gray area" between extremes is something each of us must determine for ourselves. Reflecting upon the actions of others helps us more clearly define our own perspective, so long as we don't get too judgmental about it.

Anonymous said...

Well, but I'd LIKE to see McDonald's hand forced, and Burger King's, and Wal-Mart's. I'd like to see you choose instead to support a local business and let the chains go... well, let's say, hang themselves, since this is a family-friendly blog. Then you'd get good, prompt, personalized service from people who actually remembered you.

RevRon's Rants said...

"How much irritation am I "entitled" to feel when a mentally challenged worker screws up my order?"

IMO, everybody is entitled to *feel* whatever they feel. Determining the appropriateness of those feelings is purely an inside job, since nobody else has all the "data" necessary to evaluate those feelings.

How we *act* on those feelings takes us out of the internalized realm and into the place where the expression of our feelings affects others. Society places limits on the extremity of those actions, imposing penalties when our behavior actually harms another. And there will always be those who choose to loudly condemn the actions of others, no matter how minuscule the "infraction."

The gray area - or balance - has to be something that is defined by an individual's moral code, if you will. When we "hate ourselves in the morning," it's because we intuitively know that we can do better. hopefully, rather than hanging onto the self-hate, we'll simply remember the next time, and behave in a manner more consistent with the "better" person we want to be.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, look, I agree with you. Basically. But is it an "answer"? In other words, I ask you to go back over what you wrote here and ask yourself, "Can this be implemented?" Otherwise isn't it all just talk?

RevRon's Rants said...

""Can this be implemented?" Otherwise isn't it all just talk?"

The "implementation" is, as I'd said, purely an inside job, done on an individual level. The only appropriate action on a more universal level is discussing our feelings & actions honestly, and then looking to ourselves for whatever "answers" we may find.

On the surface, it is "all just talk." But by talking - and considering different ways of dealing with situations - we are provided with the tools we need to grow.

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, Ron, but I guess what I'm asking is--from your POV--if I lose my cool in McDonald's before you might, are we both, nonetheless, "right"? Or are there some universal standards that we should seek in performing this balancing act?

Because otherwise--if indeed we are individually entitled to define the limits of our own patience--then what's really the point of talking about balance? You get my drift? If everybody's notion of balance is equally valid, then is it really balance at all? Or is it just--as they say of the notorious Boston Red Sox slugger--"Manny being Manny"?

And in that case, what right would anyone have to tell someone else, "You need more balance in your life"? I hope this doesn't sound like sophistry or hair-splitting, because I see these as important issues that have much to say about the social contract.

RevRon's Rants said...

in the final analysis, I think we get into trouble when we feel the need to "implement" our own mindset on a more universal basis. Making another person feel diminished because they don't believe in the "Law" of Attraction, find a specific genre of music or literature distasteful, or feel compelled to help another human being all share one common element: the desire to diminish another. And that desire arises out of its own "issues."

IMO, our job is merely to observe, determine how we feel about a given subject, strive to better understand why we react the way we do, and ultimately, to learn from our experiences and attempt to behave in a manner more consistent with our ideals. All "inside jobs." We can certainly share our mindset with others, but when we try to impose those internalized ideals upon others, we've crossed the line of responsibility, and would do well to ask ourselves why we choose to do so.

RevRon's Rants said...

"if I lose my cool in McDonald's before you might, are we both, nonetheless, "right"?"

Depends upon how losing one's cool is manifest. If you were standing there, silently steaming and wishing the "retard" were somewhere else, nobody but you can decry the appropriateness of your actions. But id you blew up and started screaming at the guy, it would be appropriate for someone else to suggest you cool down. Everyone is entitled to their feelings, but it crosses a line when *expressing* those feelings harms or diminishes someone else.

"... what right would anyone have to tell someone else, "You need more balance in your life"?"

They would have the *right* to say it, just as the target of their judgment would have the *right* to tell them to take a flying f**k at the moon. However, having the right to do something doesn't necessarily mean it's appropriate to do it, and the exercise of those rights usually reflects more upon the person doing the talking than upon the target of their judgment. At least, that's how I see it.

Anonymous said...

And I thought we were out of church, that being Wednesday and all. LOL.

Seriously now, shoddy service is shoddy service, Steve. You may decide to tolerate it or not, depending on your POV and comfort level.* IMO, you do not do the business and the person who "mistreats" you any favors if you do not give them feedback that would result in improvement for both (this more applicable to the post office vignette than McDonald's, imo). I'd imagine that they would ultimately appreciate it (if done kindly).

Aside: You know, I'm so used to being "mishandled" and ripped off in various ways in public and not establishments that I do not expect good service as a rule. Decent enough is my level of expectation. And this way, when good service happens, I'm pleasantly surprised and can even comment on it, favorably (being nice, you know:).

*Though don't get me started on lines at the post office.

Akhetnu said...

I think Ron has hit on some interesting points, especially with regards to annoying inconveniences versus actual harm coming from gross incompetence in a vital job.

I don't think anyone is suggesting we tolerate the latter in the name of protecting hurt feelings. But when it comes to being annoyed by the job performance of someone with Down's Syndrome in a menial task, how much of that is simply us expecting a perfect world that caters to our whims?

If everything was at a standstill as in the scenario described by Steve, it is actually incumbent on the manager to deal with it efficiently since he or she should be aware of their workers limitations. Of course, perhaps they were understaffed at the time due to an unforseen sickness as well.

Ultimately, I would personally be patient in such a case; there are more important things to get stressed over. However, I don't really go to fast food joints anyway, so this might all be moot in my case.

Anonymous said...

Hello Steve...

I have had similar circumstances and I handled them differently. I'm not finding fault with you but just sharing how things work out for me.

While in line at the post office I have said in a firm, kind voice, "Excuse me, I hate to interupt, but I think we are all in a bit of a rush can we hurry please?"

It snaps the talkers out of their zone and you have the backing of everyone in line. It works. No frustration.

Then when you get to the counter you thank them for their efficiency and even apologize again for interupting.

Now the McDonald's employee really needs to learn, and he can learn by repitition as we all do. I would have talked to the manager and had her explain to the employee that the coupon was valid.

It really would have been doing the counter help a favor. In the short run it would have taken longer, but given the circumstances I think it would be worth it for the manager and the employee.

Things like that have happened to me in the grocery store when there has been a coupon problem or something similar, and I turn around and apologize to the other people in line for taking so long and then we usually have a little civilized conversation and then before you know it, it's all resolved and everyone is okay.

Plus, a smile goes a long way. :)

Anonymous said...

I was going to comment here but I read the comments first. And now I see there is just no damned point IN commenting.

And thus the Great Flushing of an Advanced Civilization continues apace...

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Anon (5:58). It may surprise you to know that normally, I'd handle the postal situation pretty much as you describe. (In other words, I wouldn't go postal, yuk yuk.) I am always polite at first, almost no matter the provocation. Even in restaurants where young people are cursing--arguably the bane of today's public life--I don't get confrontational until I've asked them once to consider the circumstances, and they give me lip in return. Then all bets are off. In this case, however, I guess I was almost looking at things in a zoological/anthropological sense--as a spectator to it more than a participant.

I actually find that since I kicked off SHAMblog, I do that in many respects: observe life as an outsider, far more than I used to.

Anonymous said...

>>>I actually find that since I kicked off SHAMblog, I do that in many respects: observe life as an outsider, far more than I used to

This is clinically called alienation.

Welcome to the club!

Veritas said...

Not to be snide nor sarcastic, it is only going to get worse.

The world will not end with a bang but will grind to a halt with a rather pathetic long and drawn out whimper.

I would suggest adjusting ones life to make choices that preserve one's mental sanity and of course will not get you ex-communicated or thrown in jail.

You can not win on either of these topics.

The postal employee in question is an expert speaker on customer relations within the system. These are the days of diversity and political correctness.

The issue with McDonald's. Well why even go to that place? That corporation is the epitome of inefficiency and discourtesy the majority of the time, ever since they abandoned just selling burgers, fries, sodas and shakes.

There are so many varying perspectives in the world it is hard to get anything done at times.

No answer. What you hate someone else loves. It is a world increasingly of extremes.

Stay sane. have fun.

moonrambler said...

About Scene 2 -- I don't think the person should have the job if he can't do the job properly. This is like affirmative action run amok. I encounter mentally challenged people here and there at various jobs and they do great -- there's a bag boy at a supermarket, a woman at Subway who makes sandwiches, and a guy who cleans offices. They don't have to work as a cashier if they can't understand coupons. (Did anyone see the episode of that show "Judging Amy" where the retarded girl kept proudly bragging about her retarded boyfriend, "He does coupons!")

Then again, even some people with seemingly normal intelligence go into complete bewilderment when it comes to certain transactions. I gave up trying to get an egg biscuit at McDonald's, although it's no problem getting one at Hardee's (perhaps it's actually on the menu there). At McDonald's, employees act completely confused when I ask for an egg biscuit. Geez, put an egg on a biscuit for Pete's sake.

The last time I tried this order there, I pulled up to the window and the woman said "$2.47." Whaaaat? I was very polite and said it usually costs around $1.30. She insisted it was $2.47. I insisted it could not be that much. She went and got the manager. The manager was ornery. She demanded $2.47. I asked, "How much is a sausage and egg biscuit?" and she said "$1.89." And I said, "so a sausage and egg biscuit with no sausage wouldn't cost MORE, would it?" At which point she basically threw the bag at me and slammed the window closed.

I thought of trying to report her to somebody but it didn't seem worth the effort.

Steve Salerno said...

You present one of the few arguments that make me rethink my general aversion to guns.

Anonymous said...

Moonrambler, I sympathize. I was once charged extra for Swiss cheese on a club sandwich after I'd told them I didn't want the turkey, beef, or chicken and bacon that typically was offered, just Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on toast. The sandwich first appeared with no cheese. When I pointed this out to the waitress, she went back to confer in the kitchen, then returned with a plate with two slices of cheese on it and informed me that that would be extra, since the sandwich didn't come with Swiss cheese. it doesn't happen often, but I was speechless.