What is Happening to Civility?

Over the Labor Day weekend I received telephone calls from 4 of my clients. None of them subscribe to the after-hours service that my company offers, but they felt that it was OK to call me on a holiday to help them with a problem. Now I’m a big fan of good customer service and I preach the same to my organization all the time, but Labor Day weekend of all times!

None of these callers had an urgent deadline they were trying to meet. In fact, every one of them had a work-around for the problem they were encountering. Each one of them practically tore my head off when I pointed out to them that they could continue to work with minimal inconvenience until Tuesday morning when our offices reopened. I abandoned my holiday plans with friends and family to help out. My partner even joined me on one of these excursions, leaving his friends and family to celebrate without him.

We fixed all of the problems. Everyone was able to work during their holiday. Not a single one of them gave a word of thanks. In fact, one of them complained about having received a bill for the holiday work, even tho I charged it at normal rates – no overtime, no weekend, no holiday, no emergency multipliers. I didn’t even charge for my time since Rob was doing most of the work while we were there together.

I used to love working with all of my clients. They appreciated what we did for them, and we got huge pleasure from helping them to succeed. The technology that we help to put to good use has started to make us forget about being good human beings. None of my clients from Labor Day weekend are particularly bad people. They have just forgotten that they are good people, like so many of us have.

I write this as we approach Christmas because I just finished reading “You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier. It wasn’t one of the best books I’ve read this year, but the principal premise of his manifesto made me think of the many horrid interactions I’ve had recently, especially that Labor Day weekend. It’s time we all started thinking more about being people. We still have the brains that our ancestors from 10,000 years ago used to survive as hunter-gatherers. Technology has placed those brains in an environment that is unusually hostile without looking obviously so.

Tomorrow, be nice to someone for no good reason other than you can. Remember to be a human being.

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