Sunday, December 28, 2014

The grass better be greener on the other side

I accompanied a friend and his companion to a mall recently. It was one of these malls where you press a button upon entry to generate a time-stamped parking slip and settle the parking charges while exiting the mall. We were surprised to find on our way in that the vending machine didn't work and, since the gates were open, my friend just drove in. We parked and shopped; my friend and his companion shopped whilst I walked roughly behind them starring at my mobile screen. On our way out, we were stopped and asked for a ticket. The attendant was extremely polite and as soon as my friend explained how we had entered, he was flexible enough to just ask us the time of entry and collect a rough amount. My friend though, was righteously outraged at being asked to pay for a system fault. He did pay eventually, but he kept raging on all the way back home about the missed opportunity to teach the mall authorities a lesson. It must have slipped his mind that he had used the parking facilities, for which it is only natural that he pay.

On another day a family I know ordered pizzas from a popular outlet. The pizzas came on time but it was found upon unpacking the boxes that the pizzas were cold. They were about to heat the pizzas on their own microwave oven when it occurred to them that as paying customers, they did not deserve to be treated poorly. They placed a call to the outlet, ignored the apologies, and asked for some sort of compensation. The only way out was for the pizzas to be boxed and sent back to the outlet, when the outlet sent out another dispatch of the same order to be delivered a few minutes later. The family contemplated this, and were coerced by their hunger to simply drop the issue.

In my short -- albeit seemingly extremely long --  career, I have not been perfect at my work. In my first year at an IT company, I kept making a series of mistakes. More experienced people stuck with me, and kept giving me more opportunities, and I committed more mistakes. With time , I learnt - not exactly to avoid mistakes -- but to handle them, and to reduce their frequency. When I find other people committing minor mistakes in their own jobs, I feel a healthy camaraderie towards them. "What, you forgot that? Haha! So, I am not the only imperfect person around." Naturally, it amuses me to look at others who expect no mistakes at all when they pay for things.

Of course, I am not Buddha (despite my occasional claims to that effect). I do get irritated at bad service, and I often take it out on an unfortunate representative. The justification for it is simple : the company makes so much money, why shouldn't they serve me well? But often, we don't hurt the company. Yelling at a pizza delivery guy who is late by a bit doesn't change much. Yelling at the outlet about the tardiness of the delivery guy could reward us with free dinner, but chances are that the dinner is involuntarily sponsored by the lowly paid delivery guy. A phone call to the customer service of any popular telecom company yields only a self-gratification as we harangue a helpless (and irritatingly repetitive) customer care executive. A I-pay-for-it-I-deserve-to-be-treated-better mentality is dangerously close to a class mentality, where class is defined by how rich you are.

And why this obsession with flawlessness -- especially in other people? Every corporate looks towards a zero defect product. Let's face it, most of our jobs are not, for my inability to think of a better term, "mission critical" (supplementary question : What is this mission? What is the purpose of human existence?). Most of our jobs are useless, contributing absolutely nothing to humanity. Yet we go around with a demeanor of self-importance as if we are Atlas, bearing the whole brunt of the World on our shoulders. Of course, there are professions that are critical. In the science fiction novel Martian, thousands of NASA scientists work around the clock for the survival of a single man, and despite their stress, they are acutely aware that a single mistake would be costly. Bus drivers (a thankless job), doctors, judges, juries, pilots, certain programmers, safety device manufacturers are a few professions I can think of where perfection is an absolute necessity.

But should we really insist a machine-like perfection in every walk of life? Or is it the quest for such perfection that makes humanity what it is today? I seriously don't know. But often, I wish that we just have the ability to take people's imperfections lightly, and be polite while pointing them out.

PS : In case there are typos in this post, you know what to do.

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