February 24, 2012

I’ve spent most of the day doing bureaucratic paperwork involving things like health insurance, college financial aid, and other financial matters, and I started thinking about how I react within those kinds of interactions.

I suspect I take more time trying to understand and square away details than some people do, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the customer service representatives find my “thoroughness” tedious.  It occurred to me today to think about whether I’ve always been this way, and I think the answer is that I don’t think I have.

I suspect I harbor somewhere not terribly deep in my mind how unexpectedly difficult seemingly straightforward bureaucratic situations became in the past, how plenty of claims that a small problem was merely a small problem proved not to be accurate, and people’s education, finances, health, freedom, lives, etc. were jeopardized and lost in ways that seemed as if the situations didn’t need to produce.

What interests me here is how the “costs” of those transactions have gotten shifted onto future transactions, as I try not to repeat those situations, even if it’s only the “surprise” part that I seek to control.  I’ve thought about this before in a slightly different way, and have come to think that the most helpful resolution for me is not to react so deeply to the stuff and trust I’ll be guided through it all — big potatoes, small potatoes, God and the universe can make mashed potatoes out of it all, which is to say, I will be helped through it regardless.

But when I’m not paying attention to downshifting into focusing on my faith and detachment, my fear infiltrates current interactions, and in the cases I’m talking about, I spend more time ironing out details that would probably take care of themselves as the transactions unfolded without so much time and energy paid to them in advance.  But I’ve become kind of hypervigilant.

Not all that interesting but I’m thinking it may be a generalizeable phenomenon, that some of the extremism in current American politics, for instance, might be traceable to people’s hypervigilance from how they have felt unpleasantly surprised from things like houses under water, pensions gone, 9/11, jobs gone — expectations of peace and stability and prosperity shattered.

So, when I get frustrated with hearing from other parts of the political spectrum how unhelpful it is for these people to endorse and insist on policies that objectively-speaking won’t produce the desired or predicted results, I think, what if we deescalated people’s fears?  Would they still go for the policies they gravitate towards now?  Would they still be attracted to the rhetoric and emotional delivery of the politicians they flock to?  Would they still act as if they need to believe in over-simplifications?

My sense is that we have shifted the costs of interacting cavalierly with people onto future transactions, and that all of us pay some of those costs.  To get back to where I started in this post, if I hadn’t gone through what I went through to in previous insurance situations, for example, would I be cross-examining administrators in new situations to make sure we’re all on the same page?  I doubt it, and I’m not sure we collectively benefit from the costs on the system when I do.

I guess my general point is that we all pay for not treating other people well.


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