I grew up in an era where customers were always right – even if they weren’t – because it was good for business to accommodate them, even if they were out of line. I literally grew up in my parents’ shoe store – for it was in our house for years (older people who I bump into reminisce how they used to feed and diaper my twin brother and me as they waited their turn for my mother to serve them) – and learned that if you make the customer happy he or she will come back.
I was reminded of that childhood lesson the other day when I walked into a candy store and bought some almonds (fattening but full of nutrients) and handed the container to the cashier to be weighed. She told me the how much it cost and while I was rummaging in my purse for money, she put the nuts into a bag that she set down on the counter. I paid her and took the bag in front of me and went home. About half an hour later, I opened the bag ready to happily nibble, only to find to my great dismay that instead of nuts, there was a small box of cookies inside.
I called the store and told the girl who answered that I was given the wrong bag, “No,” I was told, “you took the wrong bag, the one with the cookies.” I was kind of taken aback. The store was blamingme for the mistake. I explained to the person on the other end of the line that I took what was set on the counter in front of me. Again I was told that no, it was my mistake and that if I liked I could come and exchange bags.
The problem was that I did not have access to a car and even though it was only a 15 minute walk, in each direction, I had already done a great deal of walking that day and didn’t feel like shlepping out again.
But as I had no interest in eating sugar-coated cookies, I started walking, hoping to catch a bus on the way.
Upon arriving at the store, the cashier, seeing me walk in witha store-bag said, “Here is your bag,” and took the one I came in with. She then turned her attention elsewhere.
I was quite annoyed at what I considered to be a serious lack of derech eretz (that generally seems to have infected our community), and asked her, “No apology? No, ‘Sorry you were inconvenienced,’ no ‘Why don’t you keep the cookies?‘” (I didn’t want them but she wouldn’t have known that).
She looked at me as if I was from outer space. “Why should I apologize? It was your mistake! You took the wrong bag!”
I was about to repeat what I had told her over the phone but thought better of it. Why waste my breath and time. She would never see it as her mistake. I walked out of the store, but I wasn’t angry – I was actually quite sad. Sad that her attitude seems to be the norm these days. People no longer take responsibility for their actions. It’s always the other guy’s fault. If anything – they are the victims. They are the ones who was wronged.
Nowadays when an adult gets drunk and his car becomes a weapon of mass destruction, – it’s the bartender’s fault. If a student doesn’t do well in school, it’s because the teacher doesn’t like him. If a burglar gets hurt during a home invasion – such as falling through a glass skylight on the roof – the homeowner is liable. He should have anticipated that a criminal could injure himself while breaking into his home and should have done something about it. If a woman is beaten by her husband, it’s because she deserved it. She should have remembered to pick up the dry-cleaning.
The really scary aspect of this is that people truly believe they are in the right. It’s not that they are deliberately hiding their guilt or are too ashamed to admit to a flawed behavior or deed. They are in such deep denial that there is no convincing them otherwise, despite the undisputable evidence.
So no matter what – it’s your fault. No matter what, I am the victim, the one who was wronged – and you are the cause of my misfortune, of my failures.
This attitude can be annoying on a personal level but on a grand scale it can have horrific consequences, for this is what I believe has fuelled anti-Semitic persecution – and continues to do so.
And as long as individuals won’t own up to their mistakes or their weaknesses, as long as they refuse to take responsibility and thus empower themselves to make positive changes in their lives, then I am afraid that the finger of blame will always be pointed outwards.