What people do to other people
What a week! ‘Everybody’ likes to think that they would treat others as they would themselves. Normally, that includes kindness and sensitivity etc. However, my observations over they years is that this does not happen ‘all the time’. I haven’t done a statistical survey of it nor do I intend to do one. For some people, ‘it’s fine’ if people treat others as they would themselves most of the time, like say 70%. But what about the 30% of the time that people are rubbed the wrong way? Is is okay to treat others badly because a majority are treated well? I don’t think so!
Two areas of life come to my mind immediately 1) Health Services and 2) Sales of goods and services.
In health services of any type, what happens is that systems largely ruled by financial considerations cause suffering to a significant minority of people. The people most affected are those related to mental health and disability services. These groups are quite predominantly the most vulnerable or incapable people – by and large those in care don’t have the mental fortitude to assert themselves and they don’t know what’s what – or what they’re supposed to be getting. That means they can be taken advantage of quite easily and given half- or quarter-monty! But who’s serving them like this? It’s other people – obviously! How does this happen? Quite easily –
- Considerations about funding are in the minds of managers. These top level folk don’t often visit the ‘ground’ they are serving, so they don’t see the effects of what they’re doing. They largely live in a ‘protected’ space, in a plush office – coffee or tea on tap – and tucked away behind computer screens.
- Individuals at the top of the tree are ruled by various systems of accountability which they need to serve first – else they get the kick (aka sack).
- The line managers of these people don’t normally see the ground either. They’re too busy ensuring that lower level managers do what they’re told.
- In all the above the people to be served at ground level are forgotten, basically.
With sales of goods and services, all the above applies too. I want to give an example by way of a conversation below. I’ll explain the context first. This is about an advertised discount which I did not receive. I’m told that if I buy two items normally at £2.75 each I’d get the two for £5 – in other words a discount of 50p. Now, the items are ready meals in a chilled cabinet e.g. sweet and sour chinese meal, chicken korma etc etc. There are about six different meals all labelled £2.75 and under each is ‘Buy two for £5’. There are no other qualifying statements anywhere in or around the cabinet. I triple check that. I go to the automated check out (computerised) and did not get my 50p discount. I then go to the till and explain the problem I experienced. This is how the conversation went between me (CW) and the female human attendant (HA). [Mention of ‘female’ does not mean I’m sexist! Chrysst! The attendant was factually female in appearance. I did not do genetic tests to find out if she was ‘trans’ FFS!]
CW: Hi (showing my receipt) – I did not get the discount as advertised when I bought the two items at £2.75.
HA: Let me see (looking now at the receipt). Oh that’s only if you buy two of the same item.
CW: There was no such notice to tell me that.
HA: Well they’re must have been.
CW: I did check for that. It wasn’t there but I’ll go back and check. (So I depart down the aisle – check again – for a 4th time now. Look around, up and down, and see nothing that informs me that it was a specific offer for if I bought two of the same item).
CW: [I return 3 mins later having photographed price labels and surrounding area] There is no notice stating that I must buy two of the same item to receive the discount from the lot of meals each priced at £2.75.
HA: Well, it’s meant to be for two of the same.
CW: It might be meant to be – but I cannot know that at the time when I pick the items if it isn’t so labelled. I need my discount please.
HA: [Presses a button on headset – not saying anything more to me – and speaks with a manager, presumably]
CW: [I’m watching and listening]
HA: Ok. Can you wait over there.
CW: [I move about 5 feet away and ensure I’m not obstructing anybody – as I don’t wish for the police to be called to arrest me for causing an affray. Yes – this is how it works in Eng-uh-land, if your skin is coloured and you raise a reasonable protest. People of white skin, of course do not believe this.]
HA: [About a minute later] Sir could you come over here please.
CW: I walk over and after three steps….
HA: Could you bring the items over please.
CW: I reverse pick up the bag with the items and bring them to the till.
HA: My manager says to give you 50p but you’ll have to sign for a refund.
CW: Thanks. That’s serves me fine, but other people will be caught out if they labelling is not corrected – it amounts to a misdescription of sale.
HA: It’s or head office to sort it out.
CW: Whatever – it should happen quickly before Trading Standards gets involved. [I sign the stupid till generated refund slip and hand it back and an interesting 10 seconds flies by. What you’re not seeing, because this is text on a page is the rolling of eyes, the sighing and the dismissive body language which would suggest ‘You’re a nit-picking, self-important old asshole git – nobody else has caused a fuss – you cheapskate – everybody has to pay the same way.‘ Did I say that the attendant said this? I did NOT!] Yes and I know the usual that ‘It’s fine’. [I know what they’re gonna say next when I mention Trading Standards.] Can I get that 50 p now (after the 10 seconds of body language).
HA: Yes – coming up in two seconds. (Popping the refund slip into the till and pick out 50p to put on the counter.)
CW: Excellent – done within the two seconds as you just said. Thank you.
So – some will wonder ‘What’s this all about?’ It’s this simple: the law of the land says that the customer is entitled to the deal as advertised. But it gets tricky – cuz there is a nice quirk in English law about ‘invitation to treat’ (which I’m not going into – GIYF!) Nonetheless, the average UK consumer is a fool – and will say ‘I’m not a lawyer‘. Hence they do not assert themselves. Businesses exploit ‘invitation to treat’ by putting up these deals and then telling customers ‘what it was meant to be’. Then the average moron of a consumer will think, ‘Oh life’s too short.. I don’t have time to fight for 50p‘. Well, I’m not the average UK consumer and whilst I can afford to throw away several 50p coins per day, I am not prepared to throw away principles! The bigger point is that supermarkets pull this trick all the time – I know from personal experience they’ve been doing it for at leas the last 20 years. It’s a numbers game for them. How? They know that they’ll boost sales and only less than about 1% of people will protest. The profits they rake in on these trick deals is more than enough to cover that ‘5op’ refund to less than 1% of people.
But think of the body language of the HA above. She’s not put herself in my position as customer – as a person. She is in the role of defending the people who employ her – and further more she isn’t given the power to alter the price. In other words she is a ‘meat robot’. She is not interested in whether what I experienced is fair. Her interest is to do her job. I just become an ‘object’ – yet another nitpicking difficult so and so. You who reads this was not there! So I am the authority on what I experienced and I do not require 10,000 other possible explanations. Why because I am quite capable of generating 200,00o or more alternatives to explain away her contemptuous dismissive attitude. It’s the usual in this country that people seem to take some pride in providing alternative explanations ‘to be fair’ etc. In reality all those types are doing is attempting to maintain the status quo.
Ahhhahhhh.. .but there is more. What about services? Here’s another conversation from this week at a budget hotel chain. By coincidence it is another female human attendant (HA2).
CW: I get to the reception desk. No one is present. Sign up saying ‘We’re away’ and to call some 0800 number. So I pull a card and begin writing a note to be left.
HA2: Suddenly turns up. [What you who reads this is not seeing, is the lack of eye contact and a facial expression like she’s got the world on her shoulders. Sorry – it’s not for me to deliver therapy to hotel desk attendants. It’s for the bledy hotel to ensure that their staff are in a sound frame of mind to efficiently deliver their business.]
CW: Hi. Good morning. I’m [First name] [Last name] in room XX. I was going to leave you a note but as you are here please not the problem I’m having.
HA2: Oh have you written it as yet. I was about to. [What you’re not seeing or hearing is the rate and intonation of the words uttered. Often times I fantasise about wearing a body cam, but then I don’t want to get arrested!]
CW: Please take a note. Whats your name? (name tag on but I can’t see it).
HA2: Fumbles. Looking for a pen and paper. Ignores my enquiry of her name in her flumoxed stated of mind – nothing to do with me! FFS!
CW: I have a pen here. Would that help?
HA2: oh.. n…no found it.
CW: I’m a regular at your chain of hotels. The dispenser at the face sink in my room is not dispensing hand wash .
HA2: Do you mean it’s not dispensing foam.
CW: What I said was very clear. It is not dispensing handwash. Can you get it sorted out please.
HA2: Well, some people can’t get it to foam.
CW: I am not some people. I’m XX years old and I know how hand wash dispensers work.
HA2: I’m just trying to be helpful.
CW: No you are not. You are treating me like a child and infantilising me. What’s your name?
CW: This is poor customer service. It’s a simple matter of a hand wash dispenser not dispensing hand wash. Whether it is foam is irrelevant. I intend to complain about your manner.
HA2: That’s fine.
CW: It’s fine because you know your boss will support you. I’m complaining against your boss and their boss too. Goodbye. Sort it out.
Yep – I’ll be seen as ‘the aggressor’ because I assert myself and do not wish to be treated like a bledy child! Eng-uh-land is a place where ‘confrontation’ is to be avoided and can be an arrestable offence (namely causing an affray). Well, I knew there was CCTV in at the reception, so bring it on! Yes and I know that not all CCTV picks up voice.
In the above, I’m just another one of ‘these difficult’ people. That’s how I felt categorised and that’s what it is. You were not there – end of. So once one is categorised – as per ‘some people’ or difficult people – that’s no longer ‘a person’. It’s a category – a thing. Think about it. She’s looking at somebody who is speaking proper English, obviously a mature person >50 years of age, and is making a clear statement ‘hand wash dispenser not dispensing’. It’s so simple. But she’s occupied by things in her head about ‘some people ‘ and ‘foam’. Be it foam, juice, liquid or what’everrrr it ain’t dispensing. She’s not focusing on the problem as reported by a human being in front of her. She’s focusing on a problem caused by ‘some people’ who can’t get ‘foam’ out of their hand wash dispenser. She’s not focusing on me and my problem.
To wrap up, the point of this post is to show how people come to treat other people as ‘inanimate objects’ e.g. categories. This is how our humanity is lost. Be it in a health service or the service industry, people – individuals and groups of them – treat others like things. Well I’m not having it!