I was walking home today and happened to pass a Norman Rockwell-esque family moment: a hot and hazy mid-summer evening; a young boy (around five or six) is playfully chasing his slightly older sister; her mock screams, a sound like enjoyment.
What makes this scene a touch disturbing (to me, at least) is the fact that the boy is holding a cap gun and firing off rounds at his sister. Bang, bang.
It’s something I almost never see anymore.
And so I was a bit surprised that it made me feel mildly anxious. As if the image I saw was no longer fun or safe. (And I have to admit, I gave the gun more than a sideways glance.)
Now, this scenario is something I should have recognized from my own youth – related to. I had lots of cap guns. And I used them. Everybody did. So why my reaction?
Times change. So do acceptable mores. My own kids weren’t allowed to play with guns so overtly (so they made up games with weapons of their own invention). We thought that was OK.
The stories of my childhood are no longer the norm. We have a different approach; a different standard.
We look at life from another side now (with apologies to Joni Mitchell).
It’s a sobering thought – especially for communicators – when you consider that what you deem acceptable one day can become an anathema the next.
*BTW, here’s a link to the Nancy Sinatra song alluded to in the headline.
For the past several weeks, my spam filter has been blocking emails I’m calling insult spam. The New York Times wrote about them in June, around the time I started receiving them.
(Oh, how wonderful it is to be an early adopter!)
Basically, these messages have a customized subject header that says things like: ‘You look stupid mwaxman’ or ‘You look like a moron mwaxman’.
At first glance, I was taken aback. I mean who are these people to tell me I’m a moron?
But then I had to laugh at the the absurdity of the situation. I mean, here I was feeling bad about a silly comment from someone I don’t know who’s ostensibly trying to spread a virus or sell me something.
And I wondered, who in their right mind, would open an email like this?
On further reflection, I realized messages like these are aimed at our neuroses, in much the same way as so-called complimentary spam (notes that say things like, ‘You look hot’ or ‘I noticed you across a crowded room’).
Essentially, they’re preying on our need to be liked.
And I think it’s high time we started doing a better job of human-filtering; of seeing things for what they are and leaving our insecurities behind.
In a world where communications plays such an important part of our lives, we owe it to ourselves to develop and practice good critical judgement.
Yesterday, I was trying to call a former business associate who had recently changed jobs. So I went to his new company’s website, dialed the contact number and instead of the usual if-you-know-the-extension-press-it-now greeting, I reached the customer help line.
The woman was effusively polite and requested my name; and I was happy to oblige.
She then asked me what the problem was and I said I don’t have a problem, I’m just trying to reach John Hancock (minor reference for anyone who’s seen the movie), who works at the company. It was then I realized I’d made an error and asked if she could please connect me with the corporate office.
‘Oh no’, the perky woman replied. ‘We can’t do that.’
‘You can’t give me the number?’
‘No, I’m afraid not.’
I felt myself getting a little hot under the collar, as my dad used to say. And I realized this was not worth an argument or even more of a challenge. I told her I would find the number another way, went to online directory assistance and had it in under two minutes.
My point is that here’s a bit of public information and the customer help line folks aren’t able/allowed/inclined to give it out.
That’s not much help at all.
I’ve been to a number of business sessions lately where customer service has been identified as a company’s best shot at making a positive first impression with customers. As a way of building strong relationships. But to do that you need to talk openly to people, offer useful suggestions, communicate.
Some businesses – certain cell phone companies that ask for your phone number after you’ve already entered it spring to mind – still have a long way to go.