The other day I did one of the most dreaded things I can think of: I called customer service for my cell phone provider. You see, we use this pay-as-you-go company that is super cheap and so to compensate for these cost savings, contacting customer service once every year or two is like a modern form of torture. But alas, sometimes it has to be done. It's part of the deal.
So I am on the phone with this delightful young lady in India and every few minutes she asks me to wait for "two to three minutes" while she does something to help me out, all of which takes more than an hour. I told my husband that I'll bet she has to be simultaneously chatting with five or six other people to help with their customer service needs while communicating with me. His theory is that she probably has extremely archaic internet access and spotty electricity. He is probably right.
Every time I talk with this phone company's customer service I get so angry that I effectively turn into Medusa. I am coming from AMERICA in 2016, for crying out loud! You are supposed to be a tech company! My entitlements are threatened and so are my principles. I feel like I should be compensated for whatever inconveniences I suffer and I feel like it is ridiculous that they can't do more for me. Every time it goes like this. Every time I stick to my guns-- my principles-- and every time I end up feeling like I've lost.
Then the other day I decided to play this whole thing a bit differently. I called in and Sweetheart on the other end is reiterating everything a dozen times, asking me to hold every few minutes, and casually mentioning how they've screwed up and how little they can do to fix anything. It's equally infuriating as every other time I call but I'm turning over a new leaf, here. Instead of letting the lasers fire freely from my eyes, I find my center and calmly reply to every pause and question with "okay" and "yes." For over an hour it goes on like this:
Sweetheart: We've screwed up, no apologies. We don't have this information, even though you gave it to us.
Sweetheart: I am going to place you on a brief hold for two to three minutes while I look into this on my end, okay?
Let me skip to the end and tell you how everything turned out. Practically speaking, it was exactly as it would have been if I had gotten pissed. The phone company did whatever they could do, no more and no less. Emotionally, however, this time was like walking on sunshine. I felt myself thinking about Sweetheart and how hard her job must be, how little she gets paid, how difficult it must be to work for a tech company with archaic internet access and spotty electricity in the scorching heat. I found myself lucky to have the world at my smartphone-enabled fingertips for less than $50 a month. I was so pleasant that my husband didn't have to watch his mouth and hide from me for the rest of the night.
I am a very principled person and this is probably one of the best things about me. But a few years ago I realized that when I let my principle become the principle thing--when I fight vehemently for the right to be right-- the loser is usually me. Because another thing about me is that I care about people more than anything else. Often, when my principle wins, relationships suffer and people lose.
The simple truth about holding firm to my principles is that I must do it within the context of the world in which I live, while rubbing elbows with someone as different from me as the hemispheres in which we live. Usually this means that the most right thing is to live rightly with my neighbor. To find common ground and live there, only occasionally visiting the Principle's office, so to speak.
In this situation, did shutting my mouth and giving up my right to be right change what I believe? No. Did it change the outcome? No. Did it change who I am? Well, sort of. At least in that moment, in the eye of the beholder, it made me patient and kind. And when I step back to look at that big, beautiful picture, it seems like we both won.