Self-Righteous Indignation

No, I’m not going to go into Tricky Dick Cheney’s little shooting spree. I won’t complain if this turns into a big deal (and, of course, I’ll await further developments), but at least at first glance, this seems like just what it’s purported to be: an accident. The keeping-it-secret thing may have some traction, but I’m not convinced it’ll take off. I’m all for lambasting the bastard (and I’ll gladly laugh at his misfortune), but this ain’t the excuse to go... well, ballistic.

What I am going to recount — if only briefly, as I’m buried with work right now — is a little encounter I had over the weekend. I was having my car inspected at a local service station, and I was waiting in the station lobby when a gentleman came in asking to speak with the manager. He was all smiles, and claiming that he just wanted to file a compliment regarding positive service outside the norm — and, incidentally, to inquire as to just what was the norm, at least as far as station policy was concerned.

It was here that a little red flag started waving cautiously in my mind, but I held off on recognizing it right away. And at first, it didn’t quite seem warranted. The man started complimenting the attendant, saying how he’d just observed him turning a gas pump on without asking the customer at the pump to pay cash in advance. How that showed a level of trust in the community, promoted good business relations, and so on. Okay, fair enough.

He then went on to ask if that was the normal policy for the station, if attendants were expected to turn the pump on when requested without asking for prepayment. And here’s where the warning bells went off. This man — ostensibly all smiles and goodwill — wasn’t really there to compliment the current service, but to complain about such service at other times.

Nothing wrong with filing a complaint — hell, I’d say that you should complain when you receive poor service. I do that regularly. But as the conversation went on — peppered with gratuitous religious metaphors and barely concealed evangelistic zeal, by the way — it became dreadfully apparent that this guy was using the pretense of paying a compliment (not to mention his personal religious beliefs) to hammer home his complaint.

The manager tried to be accommodating — agreeing with the man on the poor computer system they had in place which wouldn’t allow a blanket “turning on” of the pumps indefinitely, but not quite conceding that just turning the pump on for anyone and everyone would be in his best interests. In fact, someone had driven off that very morning without paying.

I didn’t stick around for the entire conversation — my car was finished — but it was clear that this complainant hadn’t really garnered himself any points by his tactics. Look, behind all the various complaint methods, the end goal is to have your problem fixed. And delivering a purely backhanded compliment — as if the recipient is going to be too dim to actually understand that no compliment is being profferred — isn’t exactly a smart way to win an ally. And you’ve got to get at least some kind of ally (or at least an advocate) if you’re going to have any hope of resolving the situation. Otherwise, you’re just uselessly venting frustration.

Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss that objective...


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