A couple of weeks ago the internet in my house went down. It plunged my household into a crisis. What would the children do now? How would I know what the weather would be like this afternoon? The dog was the only one happy about the situation as attention moved from screens to playful encounters in the garden.
I immediately got onto the phone to call the internet provider to sort out the problem. After waiting in line and navigating the automated responses and countless options, an engineer came onto the call …
Hello, my name is Simon, am I speaking to Mr Smith
Call me Phil, and yes you are.
How are you today Phil?
Erm, fine, yea, so the internet isn’t working, I have tried resetting the router and it still won’t work. The green light is flashing, I think it normally doesn’t do that.
Certainly Sir, I will talk you though steps that can be taken in a minute, first I need to go through some security checks…
We went through the security checks and Simon walked me through several steps to check connectivity and make a hard re-set on the router, which did the job, fixed the problem and abated the crisis. Phew!
Is there anything else I can help you with?
No, that’s all good, so….
Ok Phil, its been nice to talk to you…
Oh, well, good…(phone moves away from my ear and into the palm of my hand…I am looking down at the phone with my thumb hovering over the red button to hang up when Simon suddenly asks)
Have you any plans for the afternoon?
Not really…so… (thumb still hovering…)
(thumb still hovering)
So, was there anything else?
No, that should all now be working for you with no more problems. (phone back to my ear…)
Great, that’s great…thank you
Your very welcome Phil, sometimes these problems happen, and they can easily be fixed if you know how.
Yes, that’s it. I had no idea you could do a hard re-set, I thought you just had to push the reset button. Thanks for showing me how to do that. Where are you based Simon?
Milton Keynes, do you know where that is?
Yes I do, South’ish right?
How is the weather there today?
Sunny and hot.
Yea, like it is here as well.
Too hot for me.
I like the heat, but I can imagine if your working in an office it get too hot for comfort.
It really does. I am off next week though so that will be nice, if the weather holds.
Oh yes, that sounds good. Going anywhere nice?
A week at home, in my garden, some walks probably.
Yes, I think it will be.
Well, thanks again Simon, I really appreciate you sorting this out for us, the children will be happy.
Your very welcome. Take care.
You take care as well, bye Simon.
– End Call
Immediately after the call I went and sat on bench in my garden. What just happened? At Northern Guild it is Clinical Practice Assessment season, and I have spent the past weeks analysing transcripts with trainees. Now I think back on the transcript that has just taken place. I felt different after the call then I did before it, and it wasn’t just the fact that the internet was working now. Simon changed as well. By the end his voice had changed, he felt more present, more tonal in sound. And the strange thing was that I felt different as well, happier, more relaxed.
As I reflected I though about how I had approached the call. It was inconvenient that the internet had stopped, and I was keen to get it sorted as soon as possible, it didn’t matter who was on the other end of the call, as long as they could fix it. In this way, ‘Simon’ could have been anyone, perhaps even Artificial Intelligence, just as long as he could give me what I wanted when I wanted it. Once that was done, I would just hangup, I n longer needed him.
As I reflect on this, I wondered if in taking this approach I somehow ignored or even denied Simon’s humanity and in so doing, also discounted my own. By objectifying him into a faceless tool on the other end of a phone, I somehow also objectified myself.
There is an undervalued yet essential component to humanism that I, once again, learned the importance of through this encounter with Simon; Gratitude. Gratitude is an exercise in recognition; recognition of the humanity on the other end of the phone, behind a counter, screen or mask. It is easy to discount another person, ‘its their Job’. What I missed was that ‘their’ was a person, a human being with thoughts, feelings, a life… when I said ‘thank you’ to Simon and we spoke of other things, that was when I felt myself, and noticed him, change.
In this way, gratitude is perhaps an act of recognition of humanity behind the roles that we take on in life and the services offered. I am grateful for the internet going down and I am grateful to Simon for talking with me for twenty minutes on the phone and reminding me of this simple yet important precept.
This year at Northern guild we celebrate 40 years of the organisation. This celebration is an act of gratitude, of thankfulness for all that the organisation has given and received from the countless people whose lives have been touched by it in someway over the past four decades. I look forwards with hope and a renewed belief in the humanistic tradition that Northern Guild has stood for all these years.
Recognition of a person’s humanity requires of me to recognise my own. To see the pain in the person before me, I need also to recognise and accept my own. If I can express joy and gratitude for the presence of the other in my life, then in doing so I find my humanity.
I am looking forwards to the party at Acklam Hall, an opportunity as a community recognise and give thanks for the work of the Northern Guild, of which you and I are both part of, and together to affirm our common humanity in all of its wonderful complexity.