hemenwaykid (hemenwaykid) wrote,
hemenwaykid
hemenwaykid

in which we fail at Apprentice Quakerism Level One

(If you know me from a customers-suck forum, you can skip this, because it's a post I put onto one of those forums about a month ago. I'm reposting it in my own journal so I can find it again.)

At the beginning of July I attended a Quaker conference (not my usual Quaker conference). It was the fulfilment of a volunteer position I took on over a year ago. I (and about a half dozen other people on my committee) planned seven field trips, and were generally points of "local expertise" for out of towners who need to find a doctor (for a nonemergency reason), or a pharmacy, or shoes for their kid because the airline lost their luggage, or whatever. People come from all over the country for this conference, so when it came to my state I was really excited to be able to show people around and bring them to the mountains and just be really excited about all the lovely things there are here.

One of the field trips was to bring people a little ways into the mountains. Because of time constraints we couldn't go anywhere far, like Rocky Mountain National Park, but I found a picnic ground about 45 minutes away that seemed perfect. The original plan, which I should've anticipated wasn't adequate from the start, was to round up 4 or 5 experienced Colorado drivers (because mountains + flatlanders = damaged brakes), plus maybe a couple others, and carpool up. (And just as an aside, we also booked two tour busses and filled them with conference-goers and drove them all the way to Trail Ridge Road the weekend immediately prior to the start of the conference. So this wasn't peoples' only opportunity to see the mountains.) Sign up started on Sunday, this field trip is scheduled for Wednesday.

...46 signups later, I panicked and more or less shut down registration (less than 24 hours after it opened) because we had too many people, not enough cars, and everything was clearly out of hand. It took a few hours for me to talk to various folks--not least of whom the nice lady who has knowledge of the budget--and confirm that we could shift to renting a bus. While all this was going on, people who we'd told for various reasons to check back were checking back, who had to either sign up or not sign up or not be able to get the boxed lunches that we were telling them they needed to order, so we signed them up, on the general assumption that this field trip was either going to a) move to a bus or b) not happen at all, so whatever, might as well make sure people are signed up and can eat food. I stopped registration entirely for this field trip when the number of people signed up covered a full page of notebook paper front and back. I also found all the handouts that had all the field trips listed on them and wrote "FULL" in large black letters across the mountain trip just so people weren't getting fliers with outdated information.

So yes. There was a certain amount of legitimate confusion and chaos, which I couldn't immediately mitigate because I was confused and chaotic myself.

But this woman.


I had stopped by our booth to grab my water bottle on my way to a meeting, and there were a few people around the table, so of course I got pulled into questions, which is fine, and it's how I expect things to be in a setting like this. I answer one person's question quickly and they go their merry way, and then this woman steps up. I see she is clutching a field trip handout in her hand.

"This," she demanded, pointing to my stack of fliers with FULL across the mountain description, "What does this mean?"

(I....what?) "It means the bus is full and we can't take anybody else."

"But THIS says," and at this point she waves her flier in my face, "THIS says the signup for boxed lunches must be done by ONE PM MONDAY."

"Yes. We turned the list in to the cafeteria at 1:00pm Monday."

"Well I'm going to talk to SOMEBODY about this because I came here on MONDAY and they didn't say ANYTHING about this and they told me to come back and now I've come back and you're telling me it's FULL and that I CAN'T GO."

"Well I don't know--"

"I TALKED TO YOU AND YOU SAID CHECK BACK."

Oh, now you talked to me, did you. (I don't think I had talked to her. I'm not good with faces generally, but I remember interactions fairly well, so even if I hadn't remembered her face right off the bat, I would've remembered her through some other means if I'd talked to her the day before. Also, early Monday morning, I was still taking reservations until about 10am. And I wasn't overwhelmed then, so if I'd seen her I'd be more likely to remember her. When I left the booth at 10am, I put a large note in the sign up book that the tour was full so that volunteers later in the day wouldn't keep signing people up.) "I've talked to like 800 people in two days." (Literally. True.)

"Well somebody needs to FIX THIS. You told me ONE PM AND NOW IT'S TOO LATE." You have all been talked to in that angry, condescending, demanding tone that says "you are stupid and I am totally in the right here and I'm just going to bully you and call you incompetent until I get my way," right? Yeah. That's the tone she was using. While waving her crumpled, sweaty flier in my face.

I extricated myself on the grounds that I had to get to a committee (true), to which she angrily responded, "Well I'm on my way to a MEETING so I don't want to talk right now either but SOMEBODY'S GOING TO HEAR ABOUT THIS." To which I said, "Okay, so it sounds like this time doesn't work for you either. After my meeting gets out I'll be at this table for the rest of the afternoon." And off she went. There was one woman left who had a question, who listened to the whole thing, and who apologized that she had spoken to me that way (thanks, but seriously, speak up WHILE SHE'S STANDING THERE DOING IT NEXT TIME). I answered her question nice and quick and went to my committee.

When Angry Lady came back after the meeting, I let her rant herself dry, and then I explained as clearly as I could the timeline of events from our end, and why registration had essentially shut down Monday morning, and that I'm sorry she was getting contradictory messages from different sources, but that there was a couple hours there where there really was no right message to give people. She calmed down and accepted my apology. I said that there wasn't anything I could do about the boxed lunch, but if she could find alternate food, and make it to the departure point at departure time, that if there was room on the bus she could be on it.*

"But I have to say," I told her, in as calm a voice as I could (and I admit I'm proud of myself for ovarying up and saying this--in a retail situation I'd never be able to), "I've neverbeen spoken to by a Quaker in the way that you spoke to me an hour ago. And it's a good thing for you that I had that committee meeting, because by treating me that way, I was all set to tell you there was nothing I could do--simply because being talked to like that makes me angry and defensive and doesn't make me care about you."

She apologized, said she felt confused and unheard, that she was angry. I guess we left it on a decent note, at least between the two of us--she got to vent her frustration by verbally assaulting me, I got to say my piece about how that's not okay. She gets to get on the bus. It's just been the last six hours, trying to sit with it, that I get angrier and angrier about it. A retail interaction I would've forgotten about by now. I don't know those people and so I don't really put any weight behind how they treat me. Also in retail, almost all the interactions are immediate, and they're done in a short period of time. I mean, even spending 45 minutes helping a woman find a dress doesn't really compare to a year and a half of meetings and work and planning and committees and discernment, especially when I've done it for free, and for no other reason than because I want to be of service to my friends and my community (since I can't afford to donate financially, I do this, and volunteer).

And it's not that I think Quakers are better people than anyone else, or that they don't get angry and confused and frustrated. And by no means do I think that Quakers are the best religion, or the right religion, or anything like that. I'm Quaker because it works for me, that's all. But I guess I do have an unconscious feeling that Quakers should behavebetter than other people. Quakers are known for their social justice work and their compassion. I can no more fathom Quakers behaving this way than I can Buddhists. Be confused and angry, fine, everyone gets confused and angry. But feeling those feelings doesn't make it okay to make people cry. A big part of why I'm so hurt is just that I've been a part of this community and supported by it my whole life, and it's always been a safe and nurturing place for me. I have no prior direct experience with Quakers treating each other this badly. But also part of it is that a basic tenet of Quakerism is that we're all equal under the eyes of god and that every single person has that of god within them. "Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of god in everyone" is one of those phrases that every half-curious Quaker has memorized. Way to fail at the basic single foundation of your religion, lady. While at a religious conference. You are winning. I can't wait to see how you treat people outside of Quaker circles.

*Maybe I should've just told her Too Bad So Sad, and in any other situation I think I would have, but during my committee meeting I reflected on the fact that I took this job because I really wanted to people to be able to see Colorado, and I want them to have a nice time when they're here, and I don't want an angry interaction to make me lose sight of that, or ruin her week. Also, the trip is supposed to be contemplative, and if anyone needs to sit quietly under the pine trees and listen to the river and maybe calm the fuck down, it's this woman.


I stuck around at the booth for awhile after that, but I basically shut down. I'm an introvert anyway, so being an extrovert for 12 hours a day is already exhausting. I went a little ways away to a loungey area, which is far enough away that I'm not immediately accosted, but near enough that I can be hailed if someone needs help. And lo and behold, here comes somebody. "I wanted to get put on the wait list for the trip tomorrow."


"There isn't a wait list."

"Could I be the wait list?"

"Well...the problem is that I've been telling people for the last day and a half that the trip is full and that there isn't a wait list. Do you want me to go find all those people and tell them that there's a wait list now?" (I was, I admit, not even entirely able to try to be diplomatic anymore, though my tone was reasonably exhausted.)

"This is my first year here and I didn't know you had to sign up for field trips. It doesn't say anywhere on the handout that you have to sign up. I thought you just showed up. I asked the dining staff about eating early so I didn't have to have a box lunch." And she just stares at me. Like, fix it. This is your fault. Fix it. You messed up on forgetting this one sentence six months ago and nobody who proofread the handout caught it either so that means I get a spot on the bus. Fix it.

I told her I did not know what to do. Or to tell her. Because I don't anymore.

I don't even know how I got her to go away.

I just...I just wanted to take people to the mountains. It's a fucking 3 hour trip to the mountains. It costs $15. I wasn't asking for anything in return. I'm not a professional fucking conference organizer or tour guide. I'm not even an amateur tour guide. I just wanted to be a welcoming, gracious host that made people happy that they had spent time and money and energy to come to Colorado.  And now everyone's just shitty.

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