23 April 2012

A little less cynicism, satisfaction guaranteed...

It can be very difficult sometimes not to be cynical particularly if you work in a stressful job where you can often see the worst that human kind can offer. It is easy to become hardened and immune to the sensitivities that mark us out as caring, to see and treat everyone with scepticism in a way that says ‘I’ve heard it all before’. This is particularly so for those in the so called caring professions such as in health care and social care but is equally pertinent for say police officers, civil and public servants and the like.

 I speak from experience. Cue boos and hisses again. My last 10 years in the Inland Revenue, which I left in 1996 were spent as an accounts investigator. It wasn’t a pleasant job and it could be incredibly stressful and confrontational. I tried to be as empathetic as I could during interview situations but after you’ve heard the same story of poverty and near destitution from someone sitting in front of you wearing expensive designer clothing and enough bling to light up Blackpool, a few times, you tend towards the disbelieving and that itch of cynicism becomes an all over body rash. When you realise that this is happening it’s cold shower and wake up time and an opportunity to remind yourself that every person you see is an individual with their own fears and worries and that they may be telling you the truth. When I couldn’t do that any longer and approached the office door each morning with a lead weight inside my stomach I knew I had to get out or I would betray myself, my conscience and my life. I have never regretted leaving because if I hadn’t I would have lost my humanity and my natural inclination towards believing in the best of people.

 Pass me that yoghurt to knit.

 In recent times I have been unfortunate in having had encounters with people who perhaps need that cold shower or worse have been doing their job for far too long and need out before they destroy some poor persons life, not deliberately I hasten to add but by default. Hence my capacity for complaining, it is an action not just for obtaining some sort of justice but also a tool that I would hope would cause pause for reflection. Sometimes it is necessary to step back and remember your own humanity and why you wanted to do that job or provide that service in the first place. It is also necessary to remember that although you may see on occasion the absolute worst in people, the majority of those people are decent and although you may not think that what they are presenting you with is important, it is important to them and that decisions you make and the service that you provide can have a devastating impact in terms of stress and worry or indeed the opposite and freedom from those things.

 Those people you deal with though, they always have the capacity to surprise you and cause a break in the monotony and cynicism build up. I once had to deal with an elderly gentleman who had retired at 65 and then set up his own company, traded successfully for 20 years, retired again and then decided he really must let the authorities know what he’d been up to and pay a little tax. He came in without an appointment to see me far more often than he needed to and I wanted him to, always filling my office with an overpowering smell of Old Spice along with his dapper dress and impressive manners. We got along on a professional basis very well and he made me laugh. We had one final meeting to negotiate his settlement offer and I was concerned to see that he hung a walking stick on the corner of my desk. The meeting went well and was cordial. Settlement was reached and he duly signed an offer. When business had finished he stood up, shook my hand and then reached for his walking stick and handed it to me. Perplexed I took it whilst he then proceeded to bend over my desk. ‘Ms Mason’, he said, ‘I’ve been a very naughty boy and I insist that you administer my punishment with the stick in your hand.’ I was mortified at the time and the gentleman was escorted off the premises. Five minutes later I was giggling away whilst relating the episode to my colleagues. It provided us all with a good laugh, a little steam was let go and with that some of that hard hearted cynicism.

 Formal complaints processes weren’t in vogue back then but neither were soul destroying unobtainable targets. Maybe those targets that apparently demonstrate how wonderful everyone is or how wonderful they would like us to think that they are, mean that working time excludes a little light relief time, which in turn leads to more cynicism and by default more destruction and complaints.

 Here endeth tonight’s ramblings of one old, tired and mad old baggage……

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