Monday 13 November 2017


Catherine wrote this a while ago...   

Carrots. One of the few veg both my children enjoy. Fortunately, carrots are a basic food item. You can find them everywhere.... 

Simple I thought. Easy. Just go online, type in a list, select the ones you want from the vast selection that will undoubtedly be displayed, pick a delivery slot and Bob’s your uncle. Or aunt – I don’t want to make assumptions. (speaking of which, no, I haven't gotten lazy, Asda was being rebuilt following a fire...)

Online I go. Typed in ‘carrots’. Nothing. So I dropped the 's' and searched for ‘carrot’. Nothing. I searched for ‘bag of carrots’. Yay, result – except it was a bag of peeled and chopped carrots. So I searched for ‘loose carrots’ – I mean, I’d prefer carrots with sound morals, but if loose ones were all they had, then I was getting desperate. 

But still nothing.  I searched for ‘root vegetables’ for ‘orange vegetable’ and on and on....... Nothing. I took a deep breath and moved on. I searched for loose tomatoes, tomato, tomatoes, salad vegetables... but the system clearly had an aversion to orange things unless they were frozen or cut up already!  

Life’s too short, I could have driven to the Stevenage store and picked them myself by this point, so, I put the rest of the order through because I saw you could add stuff later.  Guess what? Having placed the order and booked the slot, when I tried to add items to my order – nothing. So just for ‘fun’, I started a new order and miraculously carrots, tomatoes and many other orange items appeared, but I didn't want a new order.  I wanted them added to the order I had.  

Naively, I called the helpline.  Here's how it went. Think Basil Fawlty: 

Me: “I want to add carrots, unpeeled, plain, basic carrots to my existing order
Help: “Just put it in the search and add them” came the reply. 
Me: “I don't think you’re understanding me. I have searched 15 different ways, logged in and out, but it won't show me any carrots, unless I create a completely new order”.  
Help: “Please type in carrots in the search.  Have they appeared?” 
Me: “Nope, like I said it isn't working! 
Help: “Can you turn off your phone?” 
Me: “Not without stopping this call” 
Help: “Try typing in carrots.”  
Me: “Yep I just plain simple carrots are appearing” 
Help: “ok type in this code.” 
Me: “Yep done that and it just says ‘sorry we can't find that product number...please try a different search.’”
Help:  “Ah...what code did you put in?” 
Me: “Look I put in the code you said, but it isn't working. All I want is carrots and tomatoes added, if you can see them, please just add them to my order.” 
Help: “I am sorry I can't do that.” 
Me: “Well what can you do then?” 
Help: “Sorry we are not authorised to add things to orders - or do anything really” 

and with that, they hung up.

Well, this isn’t a rant against Asda or Customer Service staff (although if any of you are reading, please can I have some carrots and tomatoes?)  It’s about systems and assumptions that prevent relationship.  Now I get that systems can help relationships but if the system replaces relationship, it doesn't work.  It doesn't allow individuality.  And everyone is trapped, unable to solve the problem because often, it requires relationship to solve problems.  It requires listening ears without assumptions or reacting to the surface frustration but hearing the heart. I realised that the ‘helpline’ person was relating as if to an incompetent customer and I was relating to an inflexible system with a patronising ‘front-end’.  But I’m not incompetent and no doubt they are nice, probably stuck in a thankless job supporting a pretty poor system.

That’s the tragedy. So often we end up not relating to a person, but to the assumptions we have made about the person. So often the juggernaut of the system imposes itself between the actual people. When the problem became more complicated than following the script, the person hid behind the system “not authorised, can’t help” and hung up. How convenient it is to blame some external force, how easy to hide behind the impenetrable shield of the ‘rules’. We pick up the phone and a person speaks to us – it appears like a relationship with another human being – one with intelligence and feelings, one capable of empathy and action. Then situations arise outside the system’s parameters, insecurity drives us further into the system making us less and less a person. In the end, we close ranks, follow protocol, we cease to speak as an individual and hide behind policy. Suddenly we’re no longer relating to a person, we’re relating to a system.

There’s one other thing that people have over systems. They can acknowledge that they are wrong. Systems assume that if something isn’t right, you are the one causing it. Just like in Carrot-Gate. Obviously if you type in ‘carrots’ the system will display carrots. If it doesn’t, you must have made an error. Or 15. And the individual trying to help you is trapped by the system and the system mentality into assuming that you are incompetent, and therefore capable of being disconnected. By contrast, it was great to hear the second person I spoke to admit there was a problem with the system. I still didn’t get any carrots, the outcome was the same, she still had no authority, but she apologised on behalf of the company and it made all the difference. She didn't hide behind the system, she was honest about what was abundantly obvious to anyone looking in.  She had no solution, but relationship doesn't always need a solution. Honesty and empathy dissipated the frustration.  It said “I have heard you. I have heard your heart. I have heard your frustrations. I have heard your story and we agree on the truth.” How I wish the guy I spoken to earlier had got this instead of making me feel incompetent before cutting me off!

Why am I going on about this?  It is the saddest thing when you start out relating to a person, growing in friendship and trust, only for them to morph into an impersonal, inflexible system. Deeply sad when people relate to you based on who they assume you to be rather than who you actually are. When the rules, the system, is all you can address until finally, they hang-up.

If you relate to any of what I've written, know this. God never relates on the basis of assumption. He knows you, He gets you. He adjusts to who you are and relates to you personally. And when you relate to Him, you are relating to a Father who loves you, not a system. You are relating to the person of Jesus, not the rules He came to displace. You are relating to the Holy Spirit who isn't constrained by pre-set solutions. He never hangs-up on you.

Anyway, enough for now, I need to go and hunter-gather some carrots...