Friday, October 22, 2004

One of My Pet Peeves

Tibor R. Machan

It’s when promises go unfulfilled, that’s certainly one. The other day I had a guest speaker to our college whom I promised a certain sum from a budget set up for just this purpose. I had put in the request for the money two weeks before the event but when it rolled around there was still no check. So I implored those in charge of the matter to please issue the check and was told it would be around the day after the event. OK, so I arranged to have it sent to the speaker only it didn’t show up that day either.

Then our speaker happened to be coming to campus to do an interview with someone and so I called the bursar’s office and asked whether we could get the check over to our offices so he could pick it up after he did the interview. I was told it would be ready at 1:30 PM, about an hour later. At this point I made my dismay quite evident and insisted that they get the check to our offices by noon, no later. And so it happened but not without a fuss.

Now this is one reason some folks consider me a pain—or, to quote a former dean of mine at Auburn University, “difficult.” I am difficult if that means I speak up when promises made to me aren’t kept.

Recently I had a proposal in to a well known organization with which I had been doing business since 1976; I had done umpteen events for them and attended many more and I was hoping they would accept this proposal on a very important philosophical topic.

I first broached the issue with them about 4 years ago and after a lot of back and forth got a promise that they would be back with an answer by early 2004. I waited and waited and then I called and was told some story about why I need to wait again and then silence sat in. After a few months went by I finally called and was again stone walled by some big shots and at that point I just had had it. I told them off.

Treating people who come through regularly with prompt and very satisfying work with such lack of consideration, with failure to make good on promises to them, is not something anyone ought to simply tolerate. Sure, often there is nothing one can do about it apart from making one’s position clear and eventually simply stopping to deal with such folks. And on several occasions I have done just that, hence the “difficult” label. (In one recent instance when I spoke up about the disrespect such treatment shows one, I was characterized as “paranoid” by one of the people who had been complicit in the dilly-dallying.)

All this is rather baffling to me. Maybe I am na├»ve but I do not think so, for holding that when promises are made, they ought to be kept. Oh, there is that cultural thing some folks invoke, as when they claim that in Italy, of course, one cannot expect punctuality or in Hungary enthusiastically made plans will be forgotten in no time. But even that seems to me to be bunk—the Italians and Hungarians who indulge themselves thus ought to shape up, that’s the answer.

This summer a travel agency—that took my very early pre-payment for a cruise my daughters and I were going to take—suddenly, about 10 days or so before the cruise was to commence, cancelled it all without any explanation. We had made elaborate preparations—the cruise was to sail from London to St. Petersburg, Russia and back—and the cancellation meant the non-refundable airline tickets would be lost, not to mention the nearly $5k for the cruise itself and the fee to an airline for some flight changes. OK, but then I was promised, via a fax and an email, that all would be refunded by August 20, 2004, not to worry.

Well, folks, it is now nearly November and but a 3rd of what we were owed had been paid back and each time I inquire I get a song and dance about how I am making things worse by asking! I just do not get it. So my answer is to keep after them.

I am often a severe critic of government regulations and have even threatened to write a book titled “Be Your Own Ralph Nader,” to argue that it is best to rely on one’s own savvy to rectify the “market failures” we encounter, not to beg for government intervention. And I haven’t changed my views on that. It does occur to me, however, that perhaps some folks have personalities that simply aren’t fit to cope with the varieties of bad behavior one encounters in the market place. It takes a lot out of me, for example, to keep after these folks who breach their promises but I am sort of prepped for it, having had to fight my way throughout most of my life since I left my country of birth and needed to hone special skills for getting on. My own kids often find themselves stymied because they aren’t all that fond of struggling against the dilly-dalliers they find as they grow up and need to cope with logistics more and more. Although, they have learned a trick or two from their Papa!

I have no big answers here, only a warning. If you insist that folks behave as they ought to, if you refuse to be a sap, you will often annoy them. And so perhaps prudence needs to accompany the courage to stand up for what you know is right.