Am I the only one who has weird encounters every single time I travel? That can’t be. (Can it?)
This week, I had a quick trip to Boston (where my heart resides, so I have to visit it) to present a legal ethics program to recently minted lawyers. On the way, I tried to grab a meal at Reagan airport. The flight was at 6:30, and I wanted to eat before I had to get on the plane. I chose an allegedly fast food outpost near my gate, Big Bowl. It was not busy: maybe two people ahead of me, one behind. The order was simple: a “big bowl” of kung pao chicken with white rice, no drink. I paid, and got my slip with the number 555.
When they called 555, it wasn’t my order. They called 549 before that, and it wasn’t right either. All the numbers on all the orders were wrong, and the confusion added about 10 minutes to everyone’s wait, notably mine. Finally, they skipped the numbers entirely, and shouted out the contents of each order. My big bowl had been mislabeled 550, and for a while I had to argue with the customer who had the 550 ticket, until she realized she had ordered fried rice, not white rice.
Meanwhile the employees were just shrugging, giggling and smiling away. “You had the wrong number,” one said to me. “No, you had the wrong number on my order. Why?” She shrugged and smiled.
“That’s no answer, ” I said. “Do you have a system, or not? Can’t you tell me what happened? I was inconvenienced. Part of what I’m paying for is service. Why did this happen?”
Another shrug. No acceptance of responsibility. No apology or anything remotely sounding like one. At this point, a superannuated hippy who looked like she was ready to do a Joan Baez set intervened with a condescending, “They made a mistake. Mistakes happen.”
Yes, Sunflower, and when I make mistakes, I apologize to the people my mistakes harm. I also make sure I know what caused the mistake. “Mistakes happen” is the attitude that embeds this unethical service attitude in the culture. The young women who made this mistake weren’t paying attention, and they literally didn’t care that I had to engage in negotiations to get what I ordered, or that the ten minutes lost due to their screw-up made the difference between my having time to eat their overpriced faux Chinese food at something approaching a civilized pace, and having to shovel it into my mouth like I was stoking a furnace.
Hippy woman’s 12-year-old clone then risked strangulation by interjecting, “Nobody’s perfect,” the Rationalization List’s alternative title for the same rationalization her mother invoked, 19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!” I’m not demanding perfection: when someone makes an honest mistake and owns and apologizes for it, I always (well, almost always) am gracious and accepting. Owning and apologizing for mistakes is how we all should handle them while doing our jobs and meeting our obligations. This is an important societal norm that has to be enforced by all of us. Mama Sunflower and Clone’s “Hey, chill out, man!” approach is why we have the deteriorating culture we do, especially after eight years of a President who refused to admit any mistakes or accountability when fiascos occurred under his lax and inept management.
Laast week, when I pointed out on Facebook that the Price Waterhouse Coopers botch at the Oscars was a serious professional breech, several “friends” admonished me for making a “mountain out of a molehill,” pre-quoting the Big Bowl apologist: “Everybody makes mistakes.” Yes, but you hire a Big Four accounting firm because it will not make a mistake.
Imagine, after the race-bullying that followed last year’s awards, if “Moonlight” had been wrongly announced as the Best Picture, and “La La Land’s” all white contingent had swept the all black “Moonlight” crew off the stage, instead of the reverse. The Academy’s embarrassment would have been multiplied ten-fold, and that it was not is just moral luck. Then we learned that the reason the SWJ representatives were so slow to fix the problem was that the accountant responsible was sending a text when he should have been paying attention.
“Hey, chill out, man!”