Monday, May 6, 2013

I have the right to speak

When I am not writing, I am supporting my writing by working in customer service.  Now, it may come as a shock that one who dedicates her life to writing what she wants to write, as opposed to writing what someone else wants written, would need to find material support in ways other than her writing, so I'll give you a moment to process that shock.

Working in customer service can be stressful at times.  It is certainly a far cry from the utopian vision of a quiet little hermitage in which to focus all day, every day, on communing with the Muse within and bringing forth great works of wisdom.

However, working in customer service also provides some valuable insights into people and personalities and human nature, insights which come in handy not only for writing great works of wisdom but for gaining insights into oneself and one's experiences that provide greater clarity, perspective, and confidence in everyday life.

Most people are a pleasure to work with.  They treat customer service workers as fellow human beings and conduct business as an exchange between equals.  As, of course, it is.  These are the people who keep us coming back to work, day after day.

But once in a while, there will be a customer who wants to dominate the transaction, especially when they are told something they don't want to hear, such as a policy or legal limitation that affects the transaction in some way.  They treat their position as customer as a bully pulpit, in which the customer service worker has no choice but to bend to the customer's will in abject and groveling submission.

I'm told there are places that provide such services, but generally they are not found in mainstream retail centers in the suburbs.

One of the classic tactics of domination is silencing:  shouting down, interrupting, reprimanding the other person for what they are saying, flat-out telling the other person to shut up.  The message is that the other person does not have the right to say what they want to say.

In a customer service context, communicating information that is in some way related to the transaction at hand, the customer service worker has every right to say what needs to be said, even if it's not what the customer wants to hear.  And we have the right to say what needs to be said without being interrupted or shouted down or otherwise dominated by the customer.  And we have the right to ask you to stop interrupting us and shouting us down.  We'll be happy to listen to what you have to say; you, in turn, need to be willing to let us say what we have to say.

On a deeper level, instances of being shouted down and silenced trigger old messages from childhood, messages many of us undoubtedly heard at one time or another:  You just don't quit.  You just keep speaking up.  When will you learn?

Believe me, I have learned.  And here is what I have learned:

I have the right to speak.  I have the right to be heard.

Others, as well, have the right to speak and to be heard.  And I need to listen as well as speak.

But nobody has, or ever had, the right to silence me.

The day I leave this existence is the day I will stop speaking.

And even then, my voice will continue to be heard.

And no:  I don't quit.