Monday, March 24, 2008

A Lesson On Fairness

For the past couple of weeks I've been taking a business writing class.  Since the class began, I've been really frustrated.  Instructors in the past have spoiled me by returning assignments within a day or two with very complete feedback.  This instructor has a different, more ethereal style.  This afternoon I received an assignment back and promptly complained about my grade.  Worse yet, I actually opened Excel and figured out what the grades for the class must be based on my grade, the number of students, and the class average.  Guess what?  I probably didn't get the grade I should have.

Guess what else?  My perspective is seriously skewed in the wrong direction.  As I laid in bed a few moments ago, fuming, something popped into my head.  This morning I visited the Easter service at a facility for young people who have made some bad choices, and had run-ins with the law.  The pastor looked over the assembly of rough and tumble youngsters and declared "Guess what?  Life isn't fair."  He's right, of course.  Sir Isaac Newton never discovered the "Universal Law of Fairness" because there isn't one.

The chance that I will fail this course is slim.  If I manage only 50% on the remaining assignments, I should pass.  My current cumulative GPA is 3.95, so one stinker grade won't kill me.  I've got a great career, a family, a home, health, and happiness (most of the time).

Meanwhile, I sat amongst 100 or so rightfully angry young men this morning.  Men who do not know fairness.  They do not have prospects for rewarding careers.  Many do not have families, homes, or happiness.  Most of them will not attend college at all, let alone twice.  Their lot has been unfair, and their prospects don't look good either.

So, about that fairness.  Perhaps I'm long overdue for a dose of the unfair.  Perhaps I should remind myself that twenty minutes from here there are a couple hundred young men who would gladly trade their version of unfair for mine.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Missed Opportunity

Tuesdays I have lunch with a young man at a local school.  Since the beginning of the year, we've missed quite a few lunches.  Some days he has a difficult time staying in school the entire day.  It has been frustrating from time to time to show up at the school, only to find that he just left.

Today I arrived at the school and gave the secretary a quizzical glance.  He smiled and told me that my lunch partner was in school.  Excellent.  I signed in and started trekking up the hall, only to nearly stumble over the gentleman I was en route to visit.  He shuffled by and explained that he was going home.

I walked to the office with him, chatted a bit, signed out, and left.  At the time, it felt a bit awkward to talk to him in the office with all the hubbub off the office going on.  On my way back to the office, I realized that I failed to recognize an opportunity.  Instead of leaving, I should have sat in the office and waited.  At the very least, it might have cheered my dejected lunch partner a bit.  More importantly, he would have realized that my evaluation of him isn't tied directly to his school performance.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just Say No to Brand Molestation

When I'm in the mood for a soft drink, I want a Coca-Cola.  People who work at chain restaurants are uniformly afflicted with a disease which causes them to ask a silly question sometimes when I request my soft drink of choice.  "Pepsi?"  No.  A Pepsi is not an acceptable substitute for a Coca-Cola.  Bring me a water for which I will not pay.

The reason so many restaurants offer only Coke or Pepsi is that these enormous companies have excellent marketing departments.  They cut fantastic deals with restaurants, granting them exclusive access.  Sometimes...they own the restaurants.  Smart, but annoying for consumers.  We're basically held hostage, molested, by these huge brands.

FedEx regularly pulls a similar routine on me.  Sometimes I order products from companies which suffer from acute idiotitis.  The symptoms of this affliction include, among other things, the complete inability to tell the difference between a respectable shipping company and an incredibly shoddy one.  FedEx falls in the latter group.

Several years ago, I ordered a lot of products through the mail.  FedEx visited my house so often that I signed a slip indicating that I no longer wanted to be bothered signing for deliveries.  The reason is quite simple.  In order to afford products, I have to work.  If I'm working, I can't sit at home on my duff waiting for FedEx to show up so I can write "X" on the signature line.

It worked.  For a while.  For some reason, FedEx offers a completely counterintuitive, asinine service to shippers.  They can request that I have to sign for packages no matter what.  Since I'm paying the bill, that makes me really angry.  Literally every time someone uses this crappy shipping company, I end up with a signature slip taped to my door.  This inevitably adds another day onto the delivery time.  Does it make sense that the end consumer can do nothing about this?  No, but that's what brand molestation is all about.  Taking choice away from the consumers.

Go Brown.