Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Price of Nice ~ Payment in Kind

Ever slipped down the stairs? Or down an escalator? Well, today, I tripped up one and had it not been for my umbrella and a little dexterity, I would have probably ended up flat on my face as the escalator carried my hunk'a'junk, embarrassingly so, to the top of the tube station. Standing only a couple of steps behind me however, was a man who didn’t even bother to ask me if I was okay. Granted, I was fine. The toes on my right foot were a little sore, but whenever something like this happens, I get up, dust myself off and get on with it. I didn’t look back however. I was thoroughly embarrassed – temporarily reminded of my school days when such a feat would have caused my peers to burst out laughing. But even as I crossed the barriers and carefully climbed the stairs into the street, I realise that had I been that man, I probably would have said nothing as well.

Fifty years ago, Britain was a very different place and there was a stronger sense of community spirit. In a single neighbourhood, everybody knew everybody else; people would exchange words at the garden fence or even ask a neighbour if he could borrow a hammer because he’d misplaced his. Grannies would look after children that weren’t their own for nothing more than the company and when a family went on holiday, the neighbourhood watch would be on standby just in case any unsuspecting opportunists would take it upon themselves to break in. Of course, even now in the twenty-first century, I’ve heard of cases like this still happening – even in London where the people are colder than a fridge freezer – but any community spirit is no more. There are wars happening between rich and poor, old and young, borough against borough – and as the divide gets wider, can we honestly hope to find kindness in our fellow man or woman.

A fine example would be the postman that delivers the mail to my workplace. We have a Solicitors above us but we share the same entrance point. But rather than hand-deliver the mail into our offices, this postman would prefer to drop the mail at the front entrance instead where anyone and everyone can just walk in – claim said precious documents and walk off with them. Another example happened a few years ago when it was snowing really badly. The bus had pulled up to the bus stop and a lady was running for it. The poor woman slipped and fell within metres of the door and what did the bus driver do? He drove off – leaving the poor woman wet, embarrassed and her dignity in tatters. I’m a strong believer in karma nonetheless and I’m pretty sure he got his, but rarely do people seem to spare a thought for others and it seems to be on the rise.

Granted, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not guilty. We all do it. We all have our thoughtless moments. I was bobbing in and out of sleep on the train once and saw a guy drop his scarf. Too focused was I on catching a few Z’s before work that I kept schtum, assuming he’d notice it and pick it up. He didn’t notice however and it took the woman sitting opposite me to point it out to him. It also, isn’t uncommon for me to walk past a homeless person begging on the street. And while I know that every situation is different and that some people are genuinely unfortunate, I continue to walk by them because of my preconceptions that if I give them money, they’re gonna fund their drug problem or drinking habit.

And maybe it’s that lack of trust that makes us as a society unwilling to spare a thought for another citizen. Maybe it’s because there are so many people out there who will take, take, take and give nothing back. After all, it’s a known problem in the UK that there are people out there that are content to live off of state benefits. There are people out there that purposely have children because they know it’ll increase that benefit. And there are people out there who evade tax and claim disability allowances even though there’s absolutely nothing physically wrong with them. So when we see that homeless person taking a puff or drinking a beer, we start to wonder if they’re genuine. And when we question a persons’ sincerity, we hesitate until hesitation turn into full blown apathy.

Heck, it seems like the only kindness that we’re exposed to nowadays comes in the form of hospitality or customer service. These chipper individuals will greet you at the door with a smile and try to make all your problems melt away for the hour or two that you’re in their company. But again, is this kindness even genuine? That broad smile; that “may I help you?”; that “please come again”. Is it real – or is it just scripted? Because I too, have been there. I’ve worked in retail and customer service for over five years now and I know that even though I regularly wish to disappear behind my desk so that my clientele can’t see me, when that client walks in with a query or intention, I’m gonna put on my brightest smile because I’m getting paid for it.

Customer service isn’t free like it might have been several decades ago. It’s bought. And even bad customer service is bought too. Not everyone knows how to disguise their attitude. Take the Nando’s cashier who became very impatient with my friend because he wanted to order one fino side and one regular side instead of two regular sides. Poor guy only speaks little English so I had to interject but I couldn’t help but think: so what if he didn’t get the discount; he wanted what he wanted and he was paying for it. Give it to him!

But this isn’t to say that London is a completely heartless city. There are people out there that will get up out of their seat for an elderly person or someone heavily pregnant. When I was hit by a car, a man asked about my well-being. If someone’s been waiting at the bus stop longer than me, I’ll let them get on first. A middle-aged man exiting a Debenhams even hung back a bit and held the door open for a lady exiting with her pram. So it’s there in smaller quantities. Just don’t expect me to knock on my neighbour’s door to borrow some milk.

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