The Anonymous Inspector
"You are doing a great job!"
How did he react?
How did I feel?
Let's face it: There is an asshole in all of us. No, not the one at the bottom of our back. I am talking about the jerk living in everyone. In me. In you. Even Gandhi, I am sure, acted like a total douchebag sometimes. No one has been born an angel, at least no one I have ever heard of. Thankfully! It makes us human. And, in fact, being selfish is a skill. Think about healthy egoism. Don't donate if you barely have enough to nourish yourself. Ignore the child crying next to you for a minute and put on your own oxygen mask first. Life is not all cupcakes and unicorns: Conflicts exist and if your basic needs are at stake you have to stand up for them. Act. Disappoint others if necessary. Take care of yourself, no one else will do it for you. Let them call you a jerk, an idiot, an asshole and go with it.
But what if you act like a true ass? What if you just treat them horribly and take your load out on them?
I did that yesterday. I was a complete douche.
Reasons? Sure! I had just written an exam and was devastated. I was sick. And sad. And I am getting immersed in the Berlin culture again which means Be as harsh as you can! And... If I brainstormed long enough I could come up with ten more reasons but that is not the point. The point is I messed up. There is always a story, but a story is not a free ticket to messing with people. Here is what happened:
Sitting in the Ubahn after the exam I leaned my head against the window. All I wanted was to come home, get out of my wet shoes, close the door behind me and sleep. After days and days of studying there was nothing I craved more than decompression. Counting down stops I was interrupted by two words: "Ticket, please." Without looking up I took out my student ID (which works as a ticket, too) and pointed it in the direction of the voice. A moment later I heard, "ID, please.", and responded, "I don't have one.". I kept gazing into space. "License? Passport?" I said, "Nah. But I can show you this-" and pulled out an insurance card that has my picture. A few seconds passed. Then the voice said: "That does not work. Please get off the train with me."
Now I looked up. And lost it. "Seriously!? I have a wallet full of random chip cards displaying my name and you are pulling me out? For real!? Every one of your coworkers accepts the insurance card! This is unbelievable! Are you really-", "Yes", he said. "I am." The guy stayed absolutely calm. The rest of the train was quiet. I left the train with him, storming on: "What the fuck!? I am so freaking broke right now and you are making me pay for not carrying my passport around! Guess what, I can't do that because if it gets stolen I cannot leave this country and I do that often." He shrugged. "Get an ID then. I need your address." I gave it to him. Then I added: "And I will need your name. I am going to complain about you." The minute I said that I knew I had no reason to. Even though I was immersed in fury and frustration I realized this was coming from a place far away from my heart. I just said it to - yeah, why? Prove my power? Scare him? In fact it was ridiculous. The guy was doing his job, and he was doing it correctly. For my student ID to serve as a ticket I have to prove my identity. On top of doing what he was paid for he stayed absolutely neutral and did not for second let my behavior get to him. And then something unexpected happened.
What he did next changed everything. I am not sure why he did it and I do wonder. Maybe it was because I threatened to write a letter. I know the ticket inspectors are recruited at the employment agency and that some of them have been in jail before. I am not saying that applies to him- but who knows what his story is and if someone else had complained about him before I said I was going to. Or if he just wanted to get rid of me as quick as possible. Or maybe he aimed at embarrassing me- either way, eventually, after taking all my data, he teared the paper and let me go.
And I was: Personified shame. Stammering, "Sorry, it's not your fault, I just wrote an exam", I stuck with my unfriendly voice, sounding like I was attacking him. I was not ready to fully admit: I just acted like a total jerk. I left, as quick as possible.
Let me tell you this: That man has a shitty job to start with. Everyone hates the ticket inspectors. On top of that they get a bonus for each catch, so the whole situation is set up to turn into war. And then there is people like me who take it out on them. The theory is simple: There is rules and I did not follow. If you don't follow the rules there will be consequences. Sure, you can argue that the system sucks. But blaming those workers won't change a thing except make life worse for them.
The minute I left the station I knew I was going to email the company he works for. Report to them that there was this very skilled man in their team who did a great job. This way, maybe, I could change something for him. Plus, if he had let me go because he was concerned about my letter of made up complaint, it would be a small thing to make up for it all.
And I was going to write about him. I knew all that was not necessary. The man would live and forget about me. But I wanted to make a difference. Plus, I felt like shit. So I started this post....-
...And today, a little miracle happened.
I saw him again.
Getting off at my home stop I spotted him noting down someone else's data. At first he did not notice me. I sneaked around him and just peeked at the ID that was displayed on his bag. Quickly I wrote down his employee number, turned around and walked for a few steps, thinking "I will just write about him."
Then I stopped. Because I had realized: I was being a coward. Instead of confronting him I planned to escape into the online realm, write about him here and email his company, then leave it to be.The real thing was going back and apologizing. And I did.
I told him that I had treated him awfully yesterday and that I was really, really sorry. That he had just been doing his job and- that's when he interrupted me. He smiled and said: "It's fine. Don't worry."
It's fine. Don't worry. And a heartfelt smile. That was it. I was speechless. What a person!
This man taught me something: Complimenting and apologizing are related, If you compliment a stranger you let your guard down. You never know how he or she will react yet you are being honest and open to them. Apologizing, especially after a scene like the one I made yesterday, means you are throwing you guard all the way back where it came from- and you bow down. It is like jumping from a diving platform. The moment before feels like the scariest thing ever. But once you do it it is simple. And quick. And afterwards you are so, so happy.
...And a wee bit proud.
Thank you, number 87562 for that encounter. Thanks for your patience and for letting go, yesterday me and today the conflict. You are amazing.
I did email his boss. Though he is probably never going to read this post (unless I see him a third time) I hope he will somehow receive my words- writing that letter of praise felt good. I should do that more often.