Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kindness and the World

Recently, A Slice of Pink and Une femme d'un certain age have both written about being positive in the face of an unkind world around us. I completely agree, and have always tried to be polite, thoughtful, and aware of how my rudeness infects public discourse.

Unfortunately, today I was reminded--forcibly--that this is not the common attitude any longer, and both encounters I had today suggest to me that I am largely out of tune with the thoughtlessness and "me, first" stance of the times.

First, I have been battling with AT&T to get my online account information (username and password) in order to see my bills because--as they urged me--I changed to e-bills. ninety minutes, two "customer service" reps and one supervisor later... I have a username and new password that DO NOT WORK.

I simply yelled. Threatened to quit AT&T--ah, now some movement! Described the problem, the non-help, the frustration... and heard no genuine concern, sympathy, or thought going into the "help" process in return. "Procedure" was all they offered, which insulated them from doing anything for me.

This is the second day of battling simply to get into my account: they cannot do it themselves and cannot enable me to get in. The secret of my username/password is more tightly protected than my bank account or any of my credit accounts--it is possibly better protected than Fort Knox.

The result? Complete frustration on my part. How did I even get this far, after initially being fobbed off by promises of returned phone calls (but only until 5 pm weekdays!) and insincere apologies?

I threatened to pull my account. I raised my voice and yelled at any and all AT&T personnel on the phone. Then--and only then--did I get help, but the help's help isn't accurate. I still do not have access to my own online account. But a new registration code is on its way to me... via US postal mail.

Second, in a meeting today, a colleague said--sort of to me but really to two other colleagues and a student--(paraphrased) "Another colleague, you, and I have all failed students in the last few years, but I am still considered a nice guy."

Think about that: what's wrong with this guy's statement, and with him saying this about me (and an absent colleague!) in front of peers and a student? He did not say it in a mean or angry tone, he did not say it to score on me, he said it simply as a matter of fact--to him--about how having high standards could still mean one was popular and liked.

I sat there with my mouth open, thinking, did I really hear this?

First, it is wrong for any teacher to say "I failed a student"--in most cases, no, you didn't. The student failed to meet the basic expectations or to fulfill the basic assignments of the course. The teacher simply gave the grade earned--whether A or F.

Second, am I suddenly in a battle for Miss (or Mister) Congeniality? Am I not "liked"because I set standards and gave 5 students the D and F they earned? Despite giving 20 other students the C, B, or A they earned? Huh?

Third, wasn't that just flat-out... rude?

My unfortunate lesson for today is, being polite may be as dated as writing thank you notes and wearing hats outside during the day. Lovely to think about, but not in fashion as a practice.


  1. I have failed my share of students...some of whom have apologized for their poor performance in my class and then told me how much they "liked" me. Your colleague may feel obliged to "be nice" because he (?) is probationary or an adjunct or some such nonsense.

    And, like you, I have gone my rounds with AT&T. Experts at stonewalling, aren't they?

  2. Actually, my colleague is a just-tenured assistant professor, with about 1/3 of the teaching experience I have. The issue of "nice" is one that is currently under review by women scholars at my university.


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