Through the Cracks

Photo: Gears GrindingI wrote this post a few days back, but stuff like this happens with great frequency in this day and age, I think you’ll agree.

How is it that, in this era of hyper-communication, so little information gets transmitted to the right person at the right time? I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room contemplating this, not sure if I’ll get in for a simple annual eye exam that’s a couple of years overdue, because last time I came in this doctor’s office, had supposedly been sent the required referral but it wasn’t in my file. Today, same story. I confirmed my appointment with a person in this office, who assured me that the referral had arrived, over a month ago—yet now it’s “not in my file.”

I got here immediately after listening to my spouse go through an incredibly convoluted and tedious rigamarole on the speaker phone to pay a bill for an account that had long been operating smoothly with automatic payments on the exact same credit card, only to learn that the bank that issued the card (despite owing us on its account at this moment) had refused payment on it. All of the numbers and dates were correct and no reason given for the refusal. So my patient partner had to re-register the very same card for the very same auto-pay system, and because there’s a 30-day wait for such registrations to be confirmed, he also had to make the present payment individually. Even the poor billing department employee walking him through the transaction was so confused by and even embarrassed at the silliness of the mess and how many long pauses on hold it took to unravel it all that he kept trying to make small talk to pass the time before it was resolved.

Meanwhile, at various other points in my quotidian wanderings, I frequently watch bosses make decrees that they would know were impossible to enact or enforce if they only asked the underlings who are expected to perform them. I regularly see parents and children, housemates, siblings, spouses, and others talk at cross (sometimes very cross indeed) purposes, all the while with the deeply held belief that they are offering great wisdom and well-planned solutions, yet never quite hearing each other or considering that the person with whom they should be conversing may have already solved the problem in hand. And I have watched employee-representative committees without number at work when they have neither consulted the employees they supposedly represent for their input, nor told them what is being negotiated, how, why, or with whom.

Anybody else feel like you’re sitting right outside the Cone of Silence from Science Fiction Theater? It’s as though I can see gears turning and mouths moving and messages of obvious importance flying back and forth, but can’t see the text of the communiques, let alone read lips or minds.

I sit and wait. I get agitated and then frustrated. I get so irked and itchy that I have to hunt for clues and try to set things on what I hope will be a clearer and better path. And just when I think I’m getting my pulse back down to a practical pace, the documentation I sent out at yet another company’s request six weeks ago magically disappears into the ether, presumably now sandwiched between the pages of somebody else’s documentation in the middle of their file. I’d ask the company to email or phone me when they locate my materials, but I’m pretty sure that if the message to do so doesn’t also disappear in the meantime, he who took the message will have retired by then and the new guy won’t know what was requested and will pass on the request to yet another trainee, who will in turn bury it in another wrong file for later discovery by a random office cleaner. I’d promise to let you all know how it turns out, but I’ll probably forget, anyhow.

At least I can tell you that after one more phone call today, my doctor’s office did agree to fax the ophthalmologist a repeat of my appointment referral, so I got to visit the eye doctor after all and get my eyeglass prescription updated. Until I get those new lenses, though, I can’t be certain I’ll be able to keep an eye on the prescription slip. So disappears another useful piece of data, drifting through the cracks of the information highway.Photo: Geared Up

PessimOptimism

Graphite drawing: Self-Inflicted“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” It’s part of my credo, I guess, and may well have been aided in its development by doing those hilariously futile duck-and-cover atomic bomb drills of the Cold War era. And the air raid drills—we lived in a Ground Zero area near several military bases, strategic coast, and a handful of Nike missile sites in those days—fire drills, earthquake drills, tsunami drills, and later when we lived in the midwest, tornado drills. You’d think we’d all have grown up incredibly paranoid after such stuff in childhood. But I think that besides being remarkably resilient, kids use logic on such daily puzzles far better than they remember how to do when they hit adulthood and have been taught their prejudices, and are much more easily distracted and blinded by grey areas.

I don’t remember ever believing that crouching under a flimsy little wood-and-steel desk would save me even from the shrapnel of shattering windows and imploding walls in the event of an attack or large-scale disaster, particularly since I imagined the desk itself would become shrapnel along with everything else in the atomizing roar of a bombing. Little and naïve though we were, we had gleaned hints of the enormity of such things from our beginning school studies of the world history of war (skewed to our own culture’s view, of course); no matter how grownups think they’re shielding kids by sanitizing and limiting the information the wee ones are allowed to see and hear, children are quick to notice the blank spaces where redacted information interrupts the flow of facts, and no adult is more curious than a child to hunt for clues as to what was redacted. Frankly, if there really is any use for an institution like the CIA in this day and age when practically anyone can find out practically anything with the aid of easily accessible tools like the internet, cellular phone, and, apparently, privately owned drones, along with all of the more traditional tools of spy-craft, I suggest that the crew best equipped to uncover any facts not in evidence would probably be a band of children all under the age of about twelve.

Meanwhile, we still have large numbers of people who think it prudent to withhold or skew the information passed along to not only kids but even fellow adults, giving out misguided or even malevolent half-truths or remaining stubbornly silent and in full denial about things considered too dark for others’ knowledge. And what do we gain from this? Are there truly adults among us who still think that even smallish tots can’t quickly discern the differences between a fable or fairytale, no matter how brutish and gory it may be, and the dangers and trials of real-world trouble? Does delusion or deception serve any purpose, in the long run, other than to steer us all off course in search of firmer, more reliable realities?

As I just wrote to my dear friend Desi, it seems to me that the majority of humans always assume a fight-or-flight stance in new or unfamiliar circumstances before allowing that these might be mere puzzles to decipher, and more importantly, we assume the obvious solution to be that whatever is most quickly discernible as different from self IS the problem. Therefore, if I’m white, then non-white is the problem; if I’m female, then male. Ad infinitum. And we’re generally not satisfied with identifying differentness as problematic until we define it as threatening or evil. This, of course, only scratches the surface—quite literally, as the moment we get past visible differences we hunt for the non-visible ones like sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, and so on.

Unless and until we can change this horribly wrongheaded approach on a large scale, we’ll always have these awful problems, from petty playground scuffles right into the middle of the final mushroom cloud. The so-called justice systems of the world are set up and operated by the same flawed humans who make individual judgements, so the cycle is reinforced at all levels. Sometimes it truly makes me wonder how we’ve lasted this long.

Can we learn from kids? The younger the person, the more likely to blurt out the truth, whether it’s welcome or not. The subtleties of subterfuge are mostly wasted on children, who unless they’re engaged in happy storytelling for purposes of amusement and amazement, would rather be actively puzzling out the wonders of life than mucking about in search of evasive answers and duck-and-cover maneuvers. We might gain a great deal by reverting a little to a more innocent and simplistic view of the universe, one that blithely assumes that others are not always out to get us, that direness and doom aren’t lying open-jawed around every blind corner, and that the great powers of the internet and cell phones might just as well bear cheery tidings of goodness and kindness, and drones be removed from deployment as spies and weapons to work instead at delivering birthday presents to friends and packets of food to hungry strangers.

I’m not fooled into thinking any of this is easy to do, any more than any savvy kid would be, but I’m willing to believe it’s possible if more and more of us will commit to such ideals.