On Replacing Courtesy and Common Sense with Rigid Policy

I’ve never been a fan of taking basic positive qualities such as courtesy or common sense, and replacing them with heartless policies.

For example, my local commuter train recently implemented a “quiet car” policy – if you sit in the first or last car of the train during rush hour you are required to be quiet, like a kindergarten student being punished during nap time. The problem is, it opens the doorway to the rest of the train being a raucous mess. In truth the rest of the train, generally, is not a raucous mess – because people are basically courteous when you let things happen naturally and you gently discourage anti-social behavior using implicit group social policies. But now that we have a policy about it, I can’t ask a yell-talker to talk more quietly on his cell phone for the hour commute, because he can just tell me to go sit in the quiet car.

Pointing to policy instead of being courteous.

Likewise, for the disturbing trend in many large corporations to hire department managers whose primary responsibility is to reiterate policy. Instead of considering the individual situation when a customer service issue is escalated, many managers nowadays simply entrench themselves in being the final enforcer of the same policy that a customer questioned at the start. Of course, not all companies do this – but the ones that do have lost their way when it comes to providing customer service.

Pointing to policy instead of managing the conflict.

Likewise for my home state, which recently considered legislation that would require all state employees to live within the state. Never mind that my state capital (Trenton, NJ) is connected via a light-rail commuter train that crosses state boundaries with Pennsylvania – obviously someone at some point thought it was a good idea to encourage employees to live in one state and work in the other.

And likewise for something I read recently about the New York Police Department. Some folks are considering legislation which would require that New York City police officers live within the city. Never mind that living within New York City is a great financial hardship for many people.

Here’s the reasoning, from one politician.

If you live in our city, youโ€™re more likely to understand our community.

– Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, Legislation Would Make New Officers Live in City (Matt Flegenheimer)

I just don’t agree.

New York is divided into many communities. Many of them don’t understand each other or ever cross paths in any meaningful way, even if they “see” each other on the subway every day. There’s no reason to think that an officer who lives in the city will be or act any differently from one who lives in the suburbs – except that the city officer might be more haggard from the stress of city living. ๐Ÿ˜‰

But there’s another problem I have with the New Jersey and New York City attempts to hammer civil service employees into living in certain locations: It seems like bullying.

Yes, civil service jobs are important. But so are private sector jobs. If you think that civil servants should live within the locality that they serve, then shouldn’t private employees also?

Shouldn’t you require me, who has worked for private New York City companies for nearly 15 years, to live within New York City so that I better understand the community I am serving?

I’m glad that hasn’t happened. To me, a necessary step at this stage of my life was to move out of the city, where my evenings and mornings could be a little less harried, and my sleep could be filled with fewer sirens and flashing lights.

Meanwhile, I do what I can to ensure I am a person who understands the community I serve at the office as effectively as possible.

Cheers, from your neighboring municipality… ๐Ÿ™‚


Nothing Worse than Ear-Phone Racket

There’s nothing worse than ear-phone racket.

I think that’s what she said, although it sort of sounded like:

There’s nothing worse than ear-phone rattle.

Either way, I think today I met the only other person on my five months of NJ Transit train commuting to Manhattan who seems to also care about the (ahem!) “ambient noise”.

It’s a beautiful Spring day. Easter Sunday just passed. On my ride back from Long Island over the weekend I was pleased to hear a simple courtesy announcement from the conductor of an LIRR train. Something along the lines of being courteous about cell phone and headphone use. I have no idea if it actually helped, but it made me feel better knowing that the LIRR was promoting basic courtesy on its trains. If you search their website, you’ll even find a PDF of a fairly draconian flyer – basically saying that you should consider seriously whether that phone call is important before picking it up and yammering away in front of all your neighbors.

It’s a quiet Spring day, the sun is out, I saw two male cardinals fighting on my tree-lined street. The local traffic police was out on Main Street to enforce the new New Jersey law (just in effect this month) which requires drivers to STOP, not just YIELD, when pedestrians are present in the crosswalk. Aside from the fighting cardinals, courtesy seemed abundant today.

But it can be a bit different on a train. It’s a very urban commute, and people feel busier than they actually are. This, along with boredom and occasional discouragement at the occasional train delays, seems to lead a few passengers each day to be somewhat discourteous.

It’s a quiet Spring day, mostly. But there’s a set of headphones somewhere behind me that’s pounding away with some boomy clubby music. And there are cell phones ringing every few minutes. A muttered phone conversation can be heard most of the time, somewhere, and occasionally there is one much louder:

I’m just checking in..

It goes something like that. Most cell phone conversations (triggered by boredom, as I said) tend to be about things like “checking in” or “can you hear me now”.

Someone off in the distance (i.e., about five seats back) has a retro ringtone on their cell phone. I can’t hear them muttering their checking-in conversation now, but I heard loud rings like the ones I grew up with on the rotary phones.

NJ Transit has a policy of courtesy – it’s been in effect for at least several years. But today, it is neither promoted or enforced (encouraged?). It’s just something you know about if you go searching deep into Google’s archives.

It’s a little different on the LIRR. But again, I don’t know if it makes any difference.

So when the woman, who was being somewhat passive aggressive, and seemed to think I might be a friendly ear, said something about the “ear-phone racket”, all I could think to do was to mutter back about how “cell phones are worse”.

And as I end this post, my quietly beautiful Spring day is decorated by another loud boomy clubby music ring tone from just behind, and a guy a few rows up who is arranging details of a conference or something.

Oh well.