Originally published on Medium, May 1, 2016 · 5 min read
This is, really, an apology — and a confession. I recently enjoyed the guilty pleasure of venting, on social media. Oh, I was so justified! Our Virgin Media broadband has been flaky for months — dropping out, slowing down etc. Finally, attempting to complete a proposal at 1am, my frustration moved me to action. Despite knowing how much of a hassle it would be (already gearing myself up for righteous anger), I called customer services.
This triggered a series of frustrating calls and, eventually, a ranting twitter campaign. Which, incidentally, eventually prompted a flurry of attempted calls from Virgin, and a weekend appointment, which I have just cancelled.
I had ammunition, by the way — plenty of it. From the fact that I was given different, and conflicting, information on the phone each time, to the attempts to blame the failings on a slow connection (caused by Virgin taking on too many subscribers, which will take four months to fix), to the worsening connection as they tried to fix things remotely, to the fact that nobody understood what the red light on the front of the router meant. It was the notification that a new hub/router would take five working days (‘because we use yodel delivery’), and a complaint would take up to eight weeks to respond to, that pushed me over the edge.
I felt I was justified — in unleashing violent anger into the world, in taking on the ‘powers that be’. My upbringing was fueled by the myths and legends of the anti-apartheid movement, the ANC, the miner’s strike, and any other battle against the injustice of power. I try to hold back, but it doesn’t take very much to encourage me to go for it — anger with a reason.
This time, I wasn’t really so aggressive — just a series of tweets pointing out Virgin’s many failings, albeit with little restraint. I picked on @yodel and even, amusingly and embarrassingly, @oasis for daring to be part of Virgin’s marketing campaign.
But the anger was there. And of course, it’s easier to pick on the people on the phone who don’t communicate in clear English, and can’t help because of the system; it’s easier to complain to (to use power against) those who are weakest. It’s really not comparable to fighting the Nazis or the National Party government, is it?
Funnily enough, several people came forward with expressions of support. Everyone loves having a go at the big boys, and everyone loves a victim, whether a weak, or a self-righteous one. Although a few did point out that being without internet for the long weekend might be A Very Good Thing for me.
This isn’t, to be honest, the first time I’ve done this. Barry Oshry illustrates that the predictable outcome condition of being a ‘customer’ is ending up ‘righteously screwed’. It’s how the system constantly reinvents itself — a homeostasis in which nobody quite gets what they want — but they get a different payoff. Anger. Self-righteousness. Moaning in the pub. Feeling, in short, like the hero of the story — or, easier and more effective, the victim.
So that’s the confession part — My Particularly Angry Role In Predictable Continuance Of The System That Helps To Keep Us All From The Real Human Possibility Of Working In Partnership. A ‘system’ which has, in human history, done more damage to happiness and freedom, and started more wars, large and small, than the most oppressive governmental regime. A system which keeps the negative energy flowing and building in huge vats, ready to burst. And a system which our every instinct of opposition will only reinforce.
But what about the apology? Ah, yes.
Knowing the engineer was coming today prompted some quick tidying-up around the router location. In particular, I finally took on the tangle of wires around router, phone charger, network hard drive, Ethernet connector and phone. In the process, I noticed that the virgin hub was connected… to the power supply for my old Netgear router.
The voltage was the same — but the true miracle was that the virgin hub worked at all on a power supply of half the ampage. With the right power plug restored, it turns out everything works just great.
Virgin, I’m sorry.
I’m quite used to the flood of chagrin and shame that follows venting. And it’s nothing new to have launched a vicious campaign, and been completely wrong.
But this time, I’m making a resolution — that I’ll honour the reality: ‘you are not entitled to anything’. Not as a customer, not as a citizen. Not as a partner in a relationship, not as a part of a family. It never helps. Expectations are the cause of suffering, says the Buddha — sadly, though, the instinctive response to entitled suffering spreads it around… man hands on misery to man.
Now, there’s still plenty wrong out there in the world.
On one level, it wasn’t hard to identify plenty wrong with Virgin’s system, perhaps exemplified by the fact that I got an autocall asking for my evaluation… not of the response I received from Virgin, as a company, but from the poor individual I last spoke to on the phone. While the oft-quoted ‘Dr Deming said that 95% of the problem is attributable to the system, and only 5% to the individual’ is bunk (it makes no sense statistically or logically, and the great man was, perhaps oddly, misusing statistics for rhetorical effect — even the original study he had in mind was apparently a 1940s report of 1920s analysis undertaken in US federal penitentiaries), there’s an underlying point which remains very true. In this case, the niceness of the person on the phone was as nothing compared to the broken system I was trying to deal with… a system that still needs to be fixed.
On another level entirely, there’s still oppression of many, many kinds out there. From evil dictatorships, to conspiracies, to everyday abuse of power, from race, to gender, to age, to sexual identity, to class, and more. These still need to be fixed.
But, outside of Star Wars, I’m not so confident I really know who the bad guys are any more (this from Wikipedia is fun but ‘this article has multiple issues’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regimes ).
I’m not sure what the implications of overthrowing the bad guys are likely to be.
I’m not sure what focusing on overthrowing the bad guys would do to me, or to the people I love.
One thing I am sure of, is that I should be sorting out my own issues first — and, if I want to make the world a better place, victimhood and anger won’t help.
*For my simple overview of Barry Oshry’s approach see https://chosenpath.wordpress.com/2020/08/28/the-dance-of-power-and-robust-systems/