I’ve been taking my new theories about e-anxiety disorder defense mechanisms out for a test drive. There are plenty of opportunities for research and my results are sometimes surprising. Last week I had a very unique encounter at — are you ready? — the post office. The branch closest to me became a real snake pit many years ago. It was the perfect model for the work product of really lousy managers. I once had a lady with bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils threaten me with punitive action if I didn’t pay for Return Service Requested returns that were two years old. (It was for a newsletter that I was mailing quarterly so I had obviously already paid for the corrections plus the postage to needlessly mail to an incorrect address again.) A letter addressed further up the food chain ended the matter and someone left the old returns in the P. O. Box with a note that read “No Charge.”
I still have a P. O. Box at that branch because changing the address on all my printed materials was a lot of work, but I stopped using the branch for anything else. Better to walk a little further with the parcels and not have to endure being verbally spit on at the counter. But last week the P.O. Box fee was due and I had noticed that the Automated Postal Center in the branch advertised that one could pay PO Box fees via the machine. I decided to give it a try despite my basic dread of e-customer service. Of course, it didn’t work. I tried every combination I could think of for entering the requested information but it wouldn’t pull up my account. Already irritated, and in a hurry, I glanced over at the dreaded PO Box Service Window. The line was almost always at least six people long and whoever was on duty would routinely disappear for 10 to 15 minutes and then come back and tell you they couldn’t help you. Today, however, there was no line. I ventured over expecting to find no one behind the window — BUT — instead I was greeted with a big smile and a truly cheerful lady. I told her about the machine and instead of yelling at me that I was too stupid to figure out how to use it, she said, “Oh, the information probably wasn’t entered correctly. I can help you.” And she did! Took the charge card. Gave me a receipt. Asked if there was anything else she could help me with. I left smiling, after I told her what a saint she was. Walking down the block, I checked several times to make sure the receipt was actually in my pocket. It kept occurring to me that I was hallucinating. But, no, the receipt was there.
As I continued on to my next errand (not quite as positive an experience) I thought about how much effect the woman’s demeanor had on me. I arrived at the Post Office stressed out and rushing and expecting the worst. I left thinking what a lucky day it was and that there were people in the world who still believed in kindness and respect. I wondered if this particular lady had an exceptionally blessed life, but I knew it was also possible that she woke up every morning to a long list of problems and stresses and just made a decision not to pass her problems on to other people. I had no way of knowing, but I sent her light and gratitude and asked that her kindness be returned to her multiplied.
Now I admit that twenty minutes later I couldn’t stop myself from saying “You’re wasting my time” to the lady at the Staples’ checkout counter when she walked away with my receipt in her hand to find a yellow marker to highlight the place on the receipt that tells you how to go online and fill out a customer satisfaction survey. She responded by shoving it at me with a dirty look on her face. (Nowhere throughout my entire, slow-motion encounter with her did she ever actually make eye contact with me.)
I headed home. Even with the boost from the Post Office lady, (I wish I remembered her name), I didn’t have enough emotional stamina left to attempt to get my needs met at another retail establishment. I tried to make myself feel guilty for “losing it” at Staples, but in my own defense, I hadn’t raised my voice or spit the words out through clenched teeth. I ended up moving my attention back to the angel lady at the Post Office, focusing on what I want to increase in my life; that smile, that understanding tone, that awareness that she was talking to a person and not a machine. Will human beings understand in time that these are skills which need to be salvaged and passed on to future generations? Or will we end up teaching classes about them after they have become extinct?
Copyright © 2010 by Anna Jedrziewski. All rights reserved.