One of my very close acquaintances is a long-time employee of Federal Express. She is a higher executive, but one of her responsibilities is the training and oversight of employees who staff the customer call-in centre. She tells me what incredible abuse these people receive, for hours and hours every day, day in and day out. She says that people must often be rotated out of that responsibility, because the constant abuse they receive can really grind them down, and affect their psychology, their balance, their well-being. She said that even young children call in sometimes to complain viciously of a package they have ordered arriving late — which might mean just one extra day after their order! She said that even children will heap all sorts of curses and abuse on the head of these FedEx employees who might be several decades older than them. But because “the customer is always right,” the workers — some with college degrees, with families of their own, with children that age or older — must sit there and absorb the abuse and reassure the customer of their sorrow for having allowed this package to arrive so late, though it is completely beyond any of the control of the employee in the callcenter for the weather having delayed a plane carrying this shipment from overseas! One employee she mentioned fell into such a deep depression after such a few months of doing this work that the callcenter worker had to be released from the company on disability, and was suicidal for a long time: the viciousness of unknown souls, poured through her earpiece on a daily basis, some from children young enough to be her own grandchildren, had shredded some layer of her soul irreparably. She developed some kind of PTSD condition, and needed counselling for some period after she left the company!
What is astounding to me, though, is that I have been near this friend of mine on several occasions, when she was connecting with some customer service center somewhere for some personal matter by phone. I was so shocked to see her being curt, testy, even unreasonable with the disembodied voice which was handling her matter. I saw my friend snapping at the customer service rep! I could not believe it, because she is normally a quite kind (if often forceful) personality. She has helped me a great deal with my work over the years.
And yet, her she was, giving grief to some unfortunate soul for some matter which was completely out of the person’s hands — even I could tell that. It shocked me that she had not integrated the lessons of her own work environment into the way she could develop a more automatic and true compassion for people who were being paid to answer her own complaint. I was actually gobsmacked — and on not just one occasion. It was a sort of pattern!
“Why do you act like that?” I asked. “Don’t you feel their suffering, the way you must handle your employees’ own suffering? How can you act like these furious people who call in and abuse your own employees?” I really gave her a hard time, because art had become so habituated to her to be pushy and a tad aggressive, living out in the cutthroat world, that she could not see her own blindness!
Being kind is not some action we “do”. It is the recognition, in others, of the capacity for suffering that we know is part of us. Therefore it is the natural extension out into the suffering of others, to serve their humanity as we would wish our humanity to be recognised and served. It is not something we need books or meditation or religion or some fucking god to know how to do. Even animals do it, and the benefits are immediate and they are real and they heal and they are just right.
So just do it, OK?