March 11th, 2010

very angry

Just a little note to say . . .

Dear Windows Vista:

I really enjoy watching you install updates and reconfigure my system for twenty minutes while I'm trying to work.

P.S. You suck.

* * *

Dear Facebook:

If I could just figure out one, consistent way to get you to load and display what you're supposed to, I'd do it. But as it is, I keep trying different things to get you to deliver, and when you finally do, I don't know what I did this time to get you to do it.

P.S. You suck, too.

What's in a name?

I went down to the bank today, only to find the ATM temporarily out of order. So I had to go inside to cash a check. There, a teller I've never met before handled my transaction. After receiving my check for cash, she asked me, "How would you like that, Arthur?"

I was startled, to say the least. Now, of course, she knew my name from my check and account. After I got my cash, as I turned to go she said, "Thank you, Arthur."

I've been bugged for some time about the way the tellers at this bank assume a familiarity that has no foundation in any relationship. I don't know any of them personally, so I don't appreciate having them use my personal name. Up till now, they've said, "Thank you, Mr. Collins" -- and even that grates on my sensibilities.

When I was learning how to greet the public in my early working days, we all said, "Thank you, sir." Or "ma'am" (or "miss"). Even today, if I were selling doodads at the fair, or handing out flyers on the street, that's still how I would address everybody, except those whom I knew personally. But more and more places these days have people presume upon a relationship they haven't bothered to build, and it just comes across as rude.

I suppose they've been taught to call all the customers by their proper names in an attempt to appear friendly. But all they do is show that they ain't got no fetchin's-up, no class. (And don't even get me started on waiters and waitresses who keep interrupting my quiet meal -- and my personal conversation -- to chat me up. It's all I can do to not tell 'em to buzz off.)

Now, keep in mind, I am anything but stuffy. I am on a first-name basis with hundreds and hundreds of people; I call almost all my parishioners by their first names, from Kindergartners to Nonagenarians, and they do the same for me. I'm not big on titles. But I was taught that there was a difference between public and private manners. Why, when my mother would sub in my junior high classes back in my youth, I would address her as "Mrs. Collins" -- in that setting. Last time I was a Scoutmaster, when we were conducting a formal ceremony (like a flag-raising, or something), I would address my 12-year-old Senior Patrol Leader as "Mr. Irvin" or "Mr. Jarvis."

Gad, I feel like the last citizen of Atlantis, washed up on the shores of Cimmeria -- except that even barbarians would have a sense of dignity in how they addressed each other.

The elaborate dance

Someone reading my previous post might think that I'm just an anti-social grump. But I'm acting out of a position I've thought long and hard about.

Two people meet. One is interested in getting to know the other. A signal is sent, sometimes non-verbal. If it is received, and the other is interested, a signal of one sort is sent back; if it is received, and the other is not interested, a different sort of signal is sent.

Romance works this way, as two people move ever closer, sometimes by tiny, tiny steps, sometimes by daring leaps and bounds. But then, all relationships work this way. This is how we get to know each other. This is how we build a relationship.

But not everybody wants the same kind of relationship, or the same degree of intimacy, as the other person. That can be devastating in a romantic relationship, where one wants more, and the other wants less, of a relationship. But you see it even in the greeting line after worship. Some people want to be hugged. Some prefer to shake hands. Some leave by another exit because they can't handle shaking hands. People are different, and that's OK.

Meanwhile, I like to hug well enough -- but I don't want to force hugs on people who don't want them. I wind up trying to read each person greeting me after worship and figure out how this person is most comfortable being greeted. I like to be hugged, too, but I don't like to be mugged, and some people don't know the difference. I try to be charitable about it. If I guess wrong about you, or you guess wrong about me, it's not the end of the world. Maybe our relationship will grow; at least, we'll learn to respect each other's boundaries.

This is also how the invitation to the gospel is given -- at least, the way I give it. You walk into my church, that gives me the right to talk to you about God (at least, from the pulpit). I won't buttonhole strangers on the street, but hey -- you showed enough interest to come here today. Fair enough. Your initiative leads to a response from me (and others), which leads to further signals of interest from you, and before you know it, I'm inviting you to
come to the Hallowe'en party
join the church
take a confirmation class
go on a retreat
be a Scout leader
whatever seems appropriate.
You retain the right to say or signal No at any point, and I'll respect you enough to back off. It's only when we are both moving ever closer that any sort of explicit invitation should be given.

The reason why I get so irritated at the forced intimacy of customer service is that it pushes itself inside my personal boundaries, without offering any similar exchange in return. It's like the overly cheerful guy who calls you up on the phone to sell you something who asks, "How's your ministry going?" Does this person really want to know, or is this all technique to punch my buttons and get me softened up for the hard sell? You know the answer to that as well as I. I'm offended by it. It's inauthentic.

And I remember reading someone who once said, "Let love be genuine."