zaterdag 14 december 2013

Noblesse oblige

Here in the Netherlands, we have an expression: Customer is King. There's probably similar expressions around the world but they all boil down to the same thing: as a company, you have an obligation to treat your customers with utter respect.

Of course we all have had many experiences where, as a customer, we were treated with anything but respect. Especially callcenters are infamous for being full of uninterested, grumpy, often even incapable employees. And even though these days awareness of how important it is to be customer oriented, friendly and helpful is high in almost every callcenter, the bad experiences still happen. For companies, present day social media are a very real threat because of the way customers have access to large audiences if they feel the need to spread the word about how awful they were treated. Where 20 years ago "I'm writing a complaint letter to the manager"was about the worst they could do, nowadays you company name can and will be badly damaged by just one person posting a negative comment on Twitter or Facebook.

This gives customers a great deal of power. But with great power comes great responsibility and it might be time to start realising this. Here are a few helpful tips on how to be a good customer:

- If you are greeted with "good morning" by the person on the phone, try returning the favor. "Yes, I want to..." is not a nice way to start a conversation.
- If you can't get your way, don't shoot the messenger. There are limitations to what customer service employees can and can't do for you. Be reasonable, thank them for doing everything they could even if in the end it didn't work out the way you wanted it to.
- Demanding to speak to a manager won't result in getting your way after all. Rules and limitations are there for a reason, and most modern day callcenters are set up in such a way that managers are often not even around or available, because it is their job to make sure the phone lines are answered, the employees are trained etc... not to speak to you. 9 out of 10 managers at callcenters will have far less knowledge of the product and the possibilities/limitations than the employees they are managing.
- Getting personal, even nasty to the employee will cost you the one ally you have in the situation you are in. Keep in mind it is this person's job to help you and solve your problem where and if they possibly can. They are not the enemy and if you treat them as such chances at getting what you want will greatly diminish. After all, they too are human and I bet you wouldn't go out of your way for someone who is calling you names, either.
- Express your appreciation. If a problem you had was solved, a question answered in a way you were happy with, a deadline met due to the help of a customer service employee.. Tell them. "Thank you"are probably the two words most often forgotten to say.

And that brings us to the core of this article. What we as customers often forget is the simple fact that these people are working really hard to answer all our questions, solve our problems and provide service. Depending on the company they answer 20 to 200 calls a person a day, and they try to be friendly and helpful to each and every one of those customers. They have often gone through lengthy training to gain all the knowledge that is needed to do their job. They are fathers, mothers, partners, humans... not robots. They are not a verbal punching bag their company has installed for us as customers to be rude, nasty, unreasonable to or even worse: an outlet for our personal frustrations the company doesn't even have anything to do with. Service.. is not servitude. And indeed as customers we have every right to demand respect, but we have an obligation to be respectful just as well. Noblesse oblige or: royalty comes with obligations. If you want to be treated like a king (and I mean an actual king, one who is loved and respected, not the dictator type).. start acting like one.

dinsdag 1 oktober 2013

Choosing our lessons

I tend to see life as a continuous stream of lessons to learn and opportunities to grow. More often than not, we have very little influence on the circumstances we are in, even if they are the result of our own choices. We need to deal with the present moment, as well as we can. But we do have a choice in how we deal with things, in what we learn from the lesson.

Pain teaches us how to hurt others, wallow in self pity.. or how to show compassion exactly because we know what it feels like to get hurt.
Being loved teaches us how to use others to our advantage, or how to love others, in return.
Being manipulated teaches us how to manipulate others, or how to stand up for what we know is right even if it means losing friends, losing respect, being cast aside.
Financial issues teach us how important money is, or how to still be happy with very little possibilities, get creative in our shopping and eating habits, and see the beauty in things no amount of money can ever buy like our health, the love of our children and having clean air to breathe.
Being rejected teaches us how horribly mean people can be, or how to accept defeat with grace, get up and move on without losing our self respect.
Getting sick teaches us how to feel sorry for ourselves and how fragile and therefore useless our body is, or how to listen to our body, see our own limitations, and have the grace and patience to work on getting better and rejoice in the healing capacities we possess.
Losing a loved one teaches us pain at the deepest level of our soul and how it is better to not love anyone so we don't have to deal with that pain ever again, or how to allow ourselves to feel that pain and go straight through it, discovering that on the other side of it there is nothing but pure love and gratitude for the wonderful memories, for having shared a part of ourselves with this person, for having become a better person, enriched because of it.
Fear teaches us to always stay on the safe side of things, that ours is a hostile world, that dreaming is a waste of time.. or that in facing our fears, acknowledging them but not letting them hold us back we find ultimate freedom.
Dealing with prejudices teaches us that people are stupid, narrowminded, and that it is best to not be any different from anyone else... or choosing to be ourselves, no matter the consequences, and to educate people in a gentle way, not by force but by showing compassion and acknowledging the fears that are at the very root of their viewpoint.

In many ways, life is one big education system. And just like in school, the students who are the most promising, the smartest, the ones with the big talents are the ones who need to study the toughest material and pass the hardest tests. Not because they need to be given a hard time, but because it is the only way they can get an education that goes with what they are meant to be in life.


woensdag 19 juni 2013

Men explained

Conversation with my wonderful friend Mikael.. one of few who doesn't run when confronted with the way my mind works

P laughs and tickles you. The women in your life will soon rule your world :)
M: they always did
P: Nothing wrong with that
M: hahaha !!!
M: forgot to add "at least they think so" !!!
P: well, big secret: we women play the same trick with men
P: amazing how many relationships thrive on "really? that's interesting dear" and  “you are right, dear"
M: hahaha !!!
M: maybe it's because you don't understand what men say
P: ultimately it all boils down to one of two things: shut up and leave me alone (because I'm busy doing something I enjoy) or: shut up, let's have sex
M: hahaha !!!
P: everything else is either polite ways of getting the same message across.. or foreplay
M: interesting subject
P: hmm maybe there is a third: shut up, I'm hungry
P: so basically the manual to dealing with men is simple. If he has an erection: have sex with him. If he doesn't have an erection but is clearly having fun.. leave him alone.. if he doesn't have an erection but seems restless.. make him food
P: oh and if he's having an erection and he's clearly having fun: either kick the other man/woman out of your bed, or join them there
P: now pondering how restaurants were invented.. must have something to do with finding multiple people in your bed, without any erections
M: excellent

donderdag 13 januari 2011

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr.  President,
This morning, I got up at 6:30 to make my kids breakfast and walk them to the station, in the pouring rain, to make sure they would arrive at school in time. I will admit I wasn’t in the world’s greatest mood. The rain, the cold, the fact I am struggling to make a living working a tiring call center job, and no matter what I do the situation not changing... it all had me grumbling. And I hated the world, so full of unfairness, ugliness, stupidity.

Once home, I fired up my computer, reading the news, and stumbling upon an article about your speech at the Tucson memorial service. I decided to find it on YouTube, and watch it. “President Obama urges nation to focus on what heals, not what wounds” the news article had said. “Suuuure, that’s so easily said” I thought, cynical as I usually am towards any politician because.. quite frankly.. to me, politics is just a bunch of power hungry idiots saying a lot, but doing very little to actually change the root causes of problems we face. And so I sat back, and watched.  

I am not ashamed to admit that what I then saw made me cry. It probably means very little to you that a simple mother in a small town near Amsterdam, the Netherlands sat here, crying her eyes out because what you said there rung so true, and was so much from the heart. But I am letting you know nonetheless because I believe that the message you brought in that speech, is the one message this world needs. It is the one message that says it all. It is the message of peace, and how to achieve it. Not by endless debates, not by means of our guns are bigger than yours, not by compromising to at least give the impression we are working on it without ever changing our actual viewpoints. But by looking inside, finding that loving, caring, compassionate person we all are at our core, and nurturing that. 

A solution so simple it sounds almost too good to be true.  Peace, both inner peace and world peace alike, is already there. All we need to do, is strip off all those layers concealing it. The prejudices, the hatred, the fears that cloud our judgment.  It is our natural tendency to want to change the world around us, find someone to blame, strike back, anything but to simply look at why things bother us, and what we, not them, can do to change it.  And in a way, this is not completely a bad thing. The fact we growl, point fingers, want to strike back at least means that we care. The true opposite of love is not hate… it’s indifference.

And so, I want to thank you. Your words and the fact that you had the guts to speak them made me realize once more what life is all about.  They taught me a lesson in humility and compassion, made me look at who I am and why I am here.  And they even forced a cynic to revise her viewpoints on politicians. You sir, are definitely one of the good guys in my book. 

Thank you, and have a wonderful day.

dinsdag 3 augustus 2010

But I thought....




People who know me, know I am fiercely opposed to any sort of assumptions. Around this house, we often say it to each other.. "don't THINK". Think about it (pun intended here): Almost every lame excuse starts with "but I thought...". Assumptions are the mother of all disasters. Don't believe me? Here are a few examples:

"But I thought there were no icebergs here" - Titanic
"But I never thought it would burn" - Hindenburg
"But I really thought those doors were closed" - Herald of Free Enterprise
"But I thought it was a great invention!" - Icarus

And it's not just major disasters that are caused by assumptions. It's also smaller ones, closer to home, in our life, personal and professional relationships. Why do marriages end in divorce? Because we thought the other person would change, or would not change. Why do we find ourselves looking for another job? Because we assumed it would be different, because we assumed we would get away with things, because we assumed... allsorts of things.

Contrary to popular belief not circumstances, such as work load or difficult personal situations, but ... assumptions are the primary cause of all our stress. We get stressed out because the world is not the way we assumed it to be. And instead of adjusting our image of the world according to what it proves to be in reality, we get angry, or frustrated.

Is it simple to adjust that image? Sometimes yes. In many ways, we can make the best of each moment by fully immersing ourselves in it, and by not paying attention to anything that for the moment is outside of our circle of influence. We all know how to play a videogame. When we do so, we become our character, deal with whatever our character encounters, gaining points or taking damage all based on our decisions and responses in the game, but we **don't think about anything else **. We are fully focused. And it's fun, and relaxing. Unless we make the mistake to assume, even here.. when we die in the game because we assumed we could take on an enemy that proved to be too strong for us, and we can't shrug it off and try again later, we once more create stress for ourselves. But most of us don't do that all that often, after all, it's just a game.

What we don't realize is that, once we start to master the art of seeing real life the exact same way, life becomes one heck of a lot easier. Once we learn how to deal with things when and if they happen, and not to assume they will turn out a certain way, we find the peace and the space to enjoy them fully as they are. 

When I first started to learn meditation, I was told it was vital that during meditation, I did not think. "Empty your mind" as my teacher back then put it. And so I found myself sitting there, thinking constantly about that I wasn't allowed to think. Every time I did think (and basically, that was all the time) I hated myself for being such a bad student. Until I finally realized it was never going to work that way. It was Pema Chodron who taught me the real trick. Thoughts will come, even during deep meditation, and all we need to do is acknowledge them for what they are: just thoughts. Like gazing at the sea and watching ships go by.. a simple "hey, a ship" and then on with watching the water without shifting our focus to the ship.

The wonderful thing is that meditation isn't just the practise of sitting. We can be the observer in our own life, all the time. To me, that is what the Buddha mind really is. Observing, but not detached. Feeling all the joy and all the pain of whatever it is, this meat puppet we refer to as "I", walking the face of the earth is going through. Just acknowledging it for what it is without losing focus and balance. And applying the principle of not assuming, for this is the true source of compassion. Once you can stop expecting people to act a certain way towards you and just accept them as they are, a tremendous source of compassion is found. You cannot be hurt by other people's behavior if you choose to accept them as they are and not let it influence you.

Does that mean we have to become doormats and let people walk all over us? Well no. We also have a choice in deciding who we want to be a part of our life. The paradox here is that sometimes, people we don't get along with, are a major source of growth. The saying "what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger" has proven to be very true for me, many times thorughout my life so far.

In the end, whatever comes our way is there for a reason. And all we have to do is to stop assuming and to just experience life as it comes, here, and now.   

maandag 7 juni 2010

I believe.. nothing

The question has been asked so many times. "Just what do you believe in?" It is a question I have asked myself, often enough. And the answer has changed, many times, along the way. It even changes depending on who is asking, and in what context. But ultimately, I think only one answer is 100% accurate. I believe nothing. Because to every belief I have that I always thought was rock solid, there are circumstances which I know will make me change my point of view. Take "killing is wrong", for instance. I do believe that, at the bottom of my core. I am actually a type that will go through great trouble to put a spider I find inside the house outside, rather than just killing it. And yet, if someone threatened to harm my children, or take my life.. or if killing was the merciful thing to do, to end tremendous suffering.. I know I could, and quite likely would, kill. Religion is another example. Do I believe there is a divine being ruling us all? No. Yet, I speak of the Goddess, the One I am sworn to serve, since many a lifetime, and for many a lifetime to come. Ahh.. so here's something I do believe in.. reincarnation, right? No. I can honestly say that when I die, and it turns out there is nothing beyond death, I will not be disappointed in any way. I will still know I did the best I could, during the time I had. Okay. Think. Do I believe in me? Hmm. Not beyond the point where I try to make the best of each moment, making the best choice I can, during that moment. If afterwards that choice turns out to make me less happy, I'll choose differently under similar circumstances, the next time. The Dalai Lama was right; "if you lose.. don't lose the lesson". Ah, waidaminute.. so I do believe in growth, in evolving into a better person? Truly a worthy cause to live for. But the truth is.. I don't really believe in that, either. I see it happen, but I don't take it as a given, and I'll fully accept it if it doesn't happen, for whatever reason. All I really know for sure is that I am. Not even the here and now are rock solid, because what is time anyhow, and place is a relative thing. if my body is sitting here, and I'm thinking about someone far away.. just where am "I"? Who is this "I" person anyhow? Is she my body? My mind? My soul? Am I a callcenter employee? a mother? A freelance consultant? a writer? an artist? a fantasy maybe, or a nightmare, depending on who you ask? The funny thing with this type of soul searching is that, the more you think, the less you know. Which might seem to be a scary thought, but it's not really. I think that, once you give up the concept that things need to be either this or that, and simply accept that today's vision may be tomorrows failure, or triumph, or both at the same time, you find tremendous freedom, and peace. To quote Forrest Gump: "Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get". But it is in this absolute uncertainty, this fluidity in thinking and expextations, as well as in truly seeing every choice, every challenge, and every waking breath as a chocolate, something to enjoy and savour.. that true happiness is found.