Show a little respect

I went shopping in the sales the other day. It was murder. They’d already been on for a week but the crowds were worse than before Christmas. I’m not a good shopper at the best of times but the sales bring out the worst in me; I wander off and end up buying things I know I don’t need. And my cursing the queues doesn’t make me much fun to shop with. Maybe it’s just that I’m a guy and can think of a dozen ways I’d rather spend a Saturday afternoon, but looking through Myer with thousands of people just doesn’t appeal to me.

But I needed a couple of new shirts, so off I went. And soon regretted it. As soon as I was in Myer the sales people started coming over, wanting to know if they could “help”. Well, I don’t know if they could have helped or not, because they didn’t give me enough time to work out what I wanted. “Do you want to try that on?” Try what on? I wasn’t holding anything! When people bother you that much I think they’re not concerned with “helping” you as much as wanting to make sure you’re not shoplifting. Why don’t they go judge some other book by its cover. 😕

Anyway, it must be Murphy’s Law or something because nothing went right. One reason I went up was to return a shirt from before Christmas; that went fine, and I finally found a couple of shirts that fitted properly. Then I didn’t think about it again until I got back home and started unpacking. And found they’d put the shirt I’d returned back in with the others! It felt like Groundhog Day. How do you do that? They’re separate transactions; the first thing you do is put it in the returns chute. No big deal, though; I’d just find the receipt to prove I’d returned it and take it back when I went up next.

Except they didn’t give me the frelling return receipt. Suddenly I was having visions of doing the right thing and taking it back – only to be arrested for shoplifting. It would be so typical. So I did the sensible thing and called Myer. Luckily there was no problem, but their response surprised me. They accepted my word for it and didn’t even check their records. If anything they seemed stunned that someone would go out of their way to help. Most people don’t apologise for mistakes in case they’re sued, but they apologised five times in two minutes – a record for me.

I took it back earlier and again had that same reaction. It reminded me of when I helped someone with her pram a couple of weeks ago, that same unexpected but grateful look. It seems strange that such a small thing might be appreciated so much, but in a way it makes sense. Standing somewhere for hours at a time, making the same sales and returns, taking the same abuse, must be tiring. Perhaps coming across someone who isn’t complaining and is just trying to help is noticeably different; perhaps they’re so used to people keeping things after a mistake that someone returning it seems unusual. Either way, it was better than I was expecting.

It’s funny the places we find respect, isn’t it? I remember when I was studying that respect seemed quite common; respect between students, between teachers and students. It seemed like a natural thing to be respectful and something I thought would be true later, but respect is something we seem to be losing in society now. It’s the same as showing people common courtesy; it’s become unexpected and stands out when it happens. Strangely respect has become less important in the workplace. Between colleagues it’s there but people work hard and if something isn’t their duty, it’s not their place to do it; that’s not necessarily wrong, but it says a lot for how aware they are of what’s happening outside of their environment. A handyman is expected to do his work because he’s being paid for it; there’s no need to pay him respect as well and say thanks, nor for the handyman to pay you respect and clean up after himself. Someone can choose to smoke while they’re waiting for a bus to work, but it’s not their place to show respect and stand back so everyone else doesn’t breathe it in; we can always move, after all. It’s that kind of attitude that, in my opinion, is why respect and courtesy are becoming rarer.

It’s sad that they are. Our interactions say so much for who we are as individuals and as a society; paying someone respect can change the way they feel about themselves, and others, and who knows what difference that might make in their lives? Just as important, I think, is showing respect between cultures. It’s always been important that we learn about other cultures so that we can appreciate both their uniqueness and their similarities, but perhaps it’s even more important now that the ‘net has made the world so much smaller. We’re interacting more regularly, both through personal relations and through governments, and if we don’t show respect and a willingness to learn about each other, there’s always the risk of a misunderstanding.

What’s interesting, though, is that there’s a time to be respectful and a time not to be. We can go so far in the other direction that our interactions can become stilted and formal, which is just as bad as then respect means nothing. And likewise, sometimes you need to be brutally honest with a person or to be rude to convey a greater message. I’ve received some of the most wonderful feedback from people like Greg Bear and Jodi Picoult, and several amicable rejection letters. But the ones that have really made a difference to me are the most brutal rejections I’ve received. Some of them said horrible things, particularly to a sixteen year old who was just learning to write; some of them literally tore me to shreds and compared me as being much “less of a writer” than writers I’d never dream of emulating. But after a day or two I stopped being angry and read through them again, and I actually learnt a lot from them, particularly regarding presentation and the weaker parts of my writing style. I made largely cosmetic changes to those stories and most were subsequently published, if in smaller markets. They were lessons I had to learn and while I’d rather have had a different messenger, I doubt I would have learnt as much. Sometimes being respectful isn’t always the best option, if it hides the truth.

But in most cases I believe showing people respect and courtesy says so much about who we are, who I am, that I try to make a difference where I can. I think showing someone a small kindness is priceless and can mean so much to them… that’s why I was stunned to see what happened to timethief. I don’t want to go too much into what happened again as there are other accounts, but TT was the most active volunteer in the WordPress forums; she has helped countless thousands of bloggers on WordPress, but has now been rendered inactive. The WordPress staff paid her little respect for her service; disrespecting her and options in public, then being made inactive and for days every comment timethief made on blogs started going to Akismet. I never imagined TT’s volunteering would end like this, and much as I have defended and recommended WordPress in the past I’m angry about this. It’s no way to treat your users and it’s damaged the community around WordPress, which is its greatest strength.

To timethief, thank you for your time volunteering, and for helping me and many others when we first arrived. I’m sorry it came to this. Sometimes I think people forget we’re human beings because of the way we communicate online, and this would not be acceptable in the offline world. All I can offer you, and all of the volunteers, is my respect, and I hope it’s enough.

In a previous post I said I wanted to start doing something kind for someone each day as a way of showing that courtesy isn’t dead. Well, now I want to add something to that. I want to show people more respect as well, to thank them for their friendship, and to not take them for granted… that can start now, with the people reading this. Thank you. And if you’ve actually managed to get to the end of this long post, thank you again. 😉

4 thoughts on “Show a little respect

  1. Wonderful post CJ. I think it is all too easy to forget that the person on the other end of a string of words or sentences displayed on our computer screen is a real, live person. That is something I always try to keep in mind.

    CJ: Thanks, Richard. Respect has been on my mind for the last few weeks, and after what happened to TT it seemed like a good time to talk about it.

    I’ve been lucky in that I’ve met many of my close friends over a computer screen; it makes no difference to me if they’re here physically or if I’m reading their thoughts. But a lot of people don’t see it that way and think they can get away with more online than they would in the real world. If more people could remember that there’s a real person on the other side of the screen, the ‘net might be very different… ah well, maybe one day. 😉

  2. The way human beings work is simply stated. We do good things for others because it makes us feel good and, because it provides us with opportunities to be recognized as do-gooders and, be looked up by others.

    Reasons people volunteer
    1. An opportunity to meet and get to know people in the community.
    2. An opportunity to use personal skills and knowledge and to feel good about sharing them.
    3. An opportunity to learn more about the community and to learn new skills.
    4. An opportunity for community recognition of knowledge and skills.
    5. An opportunity to be recognized and valued as a knowledgeable and skilled community member.

    Communities are built through cooperation, not through competitiveness. So just to set the record straight I received my reward for answering questions every time a blogger said thanks to me. Yay! another happy camper. I beamed like a beacon when I saw other bloggers receiving thank you’s too because I felt very proud of them. Yay! for ____. So as far as I’m concerned those genuine expressions of gratitude that came from the bloggers that we volunteers helped are worth their weight in gold.

    In the context of the re-vamped wp.com forum which is destined to become more and more like yahoo answers these opportunities for volunteers will decrease and may even become non-existent. Over time I won’t be surprised to see that the two sets of forums at com and org become amalgamated and roboticized.
    http://archgfx.net/blog/2008/geek/blogging/desaparecidos-wordpresscom-sucks

    I respect and admire every one of the volunteers who gave freely of their time to help. I believe every one of the volunteers are quality people, whose contributions to wp have been vastly underrated. And, I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I urged any of you “get back in there and risk getting sucker punched”, now would I? If you do decide to enter the arena y’all better wear your helmet and keep your face shield down now y’hear. 😉

    P.S. I should have my blog contents up and running at my new host by the end of tomorrow so the all the information, work-arounds and other tips will continue to be available to bloggers who need them.

    Namaste {she bows}

    CJ: Interesting analysis, TT. I hadn’t thought of it that way but you’re right, I’d definitely subscribe to points #1, #2 and #3. No act is ever completely selfless; there’s always something that comes from it, even if it’s something we’re not aware of. But that doesn’t make the effort any less worthwhile, which is what I find sad here. It’s like WordPress is saying all of your efforts, and the efforts of all the volunteers, don’t mean anything, and that’s at odds with WP’s own features page.

    My feeling is that eventually they’re going to employ more staff; we’re already seeing that with Hanni. Having staff available 24/7 would help to resolve many of the problems, and that would be the best thing. I hope they keep the forums as well, though, as there’ll always be questions some people won’t want to bother staff with, and the forums benefit the community. I’d hate to see that subsumed by “WP Answers” and an expanded FAQ.

    Eventually I’ll head back to the forums because I like to help; just hearing a thank you like sweetrosie’s makes it worth it. But I’ll be cutting back and staying away from the politics. Right now I’m just not in the mood for it.

    Look forward to seeing your resource blog when it’s up again. I’ll have some more time on my hands over the weekend as well, and I’ll be stopping by your other blog then too. 🙂 Peace and happiness to you, TT, always.

  3. thanks for the post. i don’t have much to add to it, but i enjoyed reading it and it gave me food for thought. 🙂

    CJ: Thanks for reading, sulz. It was just something I felt like I had to write, I wasn’t expecting anyone to have much to add. And thanks for your post too. 😉

  4. Hey CJ,
    Yes, you’re right, people do react oddly when you do nice or considerate things for them. And that smacks of how careless and rude many in society are.

    I was utterly shocked to see what happened to TT. That seems a shame, since she seems a lovely and helpful person.

    Although, I must say, I feel I’m a bit black balled too. Nothing concrete but whenever I ask for help, I tend to get sort of weird treatment. And I haven’t hardly ever visited the forums. I think sometimes it all still boils down to those hideous popularity contests we went through at school – there are the golden children and then there are the rest of us.

    The irony of course is that the golden children would have nothing if the rest of us weren’t around doing most of the heavy lifting, eh?
    WC

    CJ: I think people being more self-involved plays a big part in it, WC; they’re genuinely surprised or uncertain because a kind act seems so unexpected now, something they’re not used to. It seems strange that being considerate would seem so foreign, but behaviour is learnt; if there are fewer examples, it’s simple to understand it fading away.

    And TT is a wonderful person, and was a very helpful volunteer… sadly it’s WordPress who lose her, but the average users who it’ll hurt the most.

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve felt like that as well. A large problem is that most of the staff are advanced software users and explaining it to people or how they can help isn’t their strongest point; sometimes that’s true for the forums as well. That’s one reason I like volunteering; I’m not as advanced but I feel like I can explain how things work quite well to other users.

    And it does feel like a popularity contest sometimes… when something happens, aren’t we always the last ones to know? But then life is a popularity contest… one I’m quite happy not to win. 😉

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