Give the best service possible

Published 6:34 am Monday, April 12, 2010

Doing business in the Austin post office has always been pleasant, because the clerks at the counter have always been pleasant as well as helpful. They have demonstrated remarkable patience with frustrating patrons and graciously absorbed unreasonable demands. Even during the Christmas rush. Yet, I wasn’t prepared for the piece of wisdom I received recently.

In buying a sheet of commemorative stamps (my favored: the Purple Heart), I remarked that I hope I could use the supply before the next rate increase so I wouldn’t have to compromise the effect of a commemorative stamp with add-on postage. I intended this to be a bit of cynicism about frequent postal rate increases, and I wasn’t blaming them on the postal employees.

This particular clerk patiently informed me the next rate increase isn’t scheduled until 2011, which should allow me to use up the supply. Still teasing, but still with some cynicism, I asked: “Promise?”

He wisely asserted: “I can’t promise what I can’t control.”

Now with sarcasm beyond cynicism but still playfully, I asked, “What is there in life we can control?”

He responded with yet more wisdom: “I can discipline myself. I can give you the best possible service. I can be pleasant to you.”

With this adjustment of perspective, I affirmed: “And you do it very well, indeed. Thank you.”

I hadn’t climbed to the top of an Asian mountain to consult a guru who sat in isolation meditating on the secret of life. I never did understand why cartoonists would suggest that complete isolation from life would teach something about life.

I hadn’t gone to a counseling psychologist to help me cope with upsetting conflicts. All I asked for or expected was a sheet of postage stamps.

Yet, this is the sort of wisdom I would be proud to hear from a mature and long-experienced pastor.

It’s the sort of common sense wisdom that comes from living and paying attention to life. Regardless of its source, it is practical, workable wisdom needed on every level of society and in every aspect of anyone’s life and in every relationship.

It could be the clerk was but quoting something he had heard or read elsewhere. If so, I don’t want to know, because it might spoil the story.

Self-discipline. We usually can’t do much about the behavior of other people, and we aren’t usually accountable for them anyway. But we can discipline ourselves. Mind you, “discipline” is largely positive and constructive. It isn’t as much stopping ourselves from doing the wrong thing, but making ourselves to the right thing.

Doing ones job. The clerk cannot influence the decisions of the Postal Rate Commission, but he does help us find the correct postage for what we mail. That’s all he can do, and it’s all we should expect of him. Most of us are in such a situation. We aren’t responsible for what higher authorities do, but we are for what is given us to do. And we do our jobs.

Be pleasant. Some people are lucky enough to have pleasant jobs; most of us aren’t. Even the most pleasant job has its unpleasant aspects or moments. But if we do an unpleasant job pleasantly, we have done more than our job.

Good essay form calls for its thesis, asserted in the introduction, to be repeated as the conclusion in a way that calls for response and action. The thesis here is not mine but my friend’s (and he is this). So: Let’s all discipline ourselves and give the best service possible. And be pleasant about it all.