Not ducking out

The other day, while walking in my local park, I had to stage a ‘duck intervention.’ Not as dramatic as it sounds, but what I felt to be pretty important, nonetheless. A family was perched over the pond feeding the wood ducks. When I saw the telltale bag of bread in the father’s hand, I knew I had to overcome my hesitation and stage an intervention.

I hate ruining others’ enjoyment, especially when they’re interacting with nature, and honestly, people always think they’re doing something nice feeding ducks bread. I did it too as a child. But really, it’s the worst thing for them. It swells up their stomachs and has little nutritional value for them, so they could end up malnourished and unable to fly. Better alternatives are corn, peas, oats, seeds, lettuce or rice.

No one likes to be told off, and I don’t like chastising people either. But neither did I want the ducks to suffer unnecessarily. So I tried a different tack, by approaching the man and saying, ‘Hi there. Do you happen to have any corn?’ When the man obviously said no, I explained the above scenario and how such vegetables or grains would be better alternatives to bring next time. I then invited him and his family to enjoy the ducks and went on my merry way. He was fine and, most of the time – though not always – people are receptive, as they generally don’t want to harm the ducks that they’re taking pleasure in feeding.

I’ve had a few other incidents lately where my initial reaction would have been to rush in and fix a problem by criticizing the action, but I feel that it’s far better still to offer a solution, vis a vis the ‘light a candle rather than curse the darkness’ response. This is especially challenging for me living as a vegan, surrounded by meat eaters. It would be easy (and tempting) for me to criticize people for their food choices, but if people are open, I feel that it’s better to offer what I perceive are healthier and kinder alternatives.

Everyone wants to feel that what they’re doing is right and it’s natural to want to correct others who you feel are doing wrong. I think, where it’s warranted, it’s okay not to ‘duck out’ of a potential confrontation and to inform and educate people, but with a view to offer a viable alternative instead. It makes the situation better for everyone – especially the ducks.

A barred way

Last week I was in a dollar store picking up some hand sanitizer – now a regular item in our shopping baskets.  Behind me in line was an elderly lady, and while I was packing up, she set down a big stack of milk chocolate bars on the counter and then discovered she had forgotten her purse. She seemed disappointed and said she’d have to get them another time, as she wouldn’t have been able to manage the flight of stairs down to the store again. I felt bad and nearly offered to buy them for her. For some reason, I held back, feeling conflicted, and then the moment passed.

For quite some time after, I felt upset about my inability to help, and reflecting on my hesitancy, I came to the following realization. Other than the obvious expense of paying for all the bars, what stopped me from helping out was the fact that she was buying milk chocolate and, as a long-time vegan, I feel very strongly about not supporting dairy products in any way, especially not in purchasing them. If it was another item, I felt like I would have gone ahead and done it.

What this incident showed me is how common it is for us to have situations where we feel unsure how to act because the choices involve conflicting emotions and beliefs. One course of action feels partly right for one reason and partly wrong for another, creating an impossible situation. This can often be the scenario with family members – where whatever we decide will benefit one person but not the other.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, while these types of situations of uncertainty are bound to occur, what’s most important is feeling the need to do what’s right. I felt genuinely bad that I couldn’t help this woman, and it impacted me negatively because helping other people actually lifts my own spirits and helps me too. It’s not always possible to have clarity in such situations and naturally, the best scenario is where both parties are on par and feel mutually uplifted by a heartfelt exchange.

Service with a smile

Last week, I was working in the box office of an international film festival. As we were operating out of an existing cultural centre, we were relegated to the cloakroom to run our makeshift enterprise, though it functioned suitably well in our quest to procure patrons with tickets for the vast array of cinematic offerings.

Of course, there were hiccups in the procedures, as we navigated through the computer’s less than agile ticketing system. Glitches sometimes occurred, especially when we had lineups and multiple inquires. I had one particular incident, while I was still learning the ropes, which resulted in me taking a few missteps, coupled with computer and printer errors and one spilled coffee – at the customer end, not mine, thankfully, but we eventually got through it. Fortunately, the patron was incredibly patient and kind. He could so easily have blown a gasket, but remained calm and understanding throughout, for which I was very grateful.

It was a lesson I could have used when I was recently doing some banking for my elderly mom, as I often do. Usually, I use the bank machine, but this time, I wanted to check something with a teller. I was mentally hoping not to get served by a particular person, as she always questions my POA credentials and the interaction takes forever. I did, of course, get her, and had to re-explain my situation, followed by her meticulously going through everything, including me signing my name twice, as my signature didn’t sufficiently match the one on file. I gritted my teeth, silently wishing I had used the ATM machine.

But the truth is that no one is perfect, and while we hope people are all doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, some customer service will always be better than others. But we all need to live with human foibles and errors too, if we want to have this personal interaction with at all. Machines are rapidly replacing people in every facet of our society, and soon, face-to-face transactions will become even more a thing of the past.

Such erasure will further erode our communication skills, and more poignantly, our ability to be courteous, patient and kind. With our being accustomed to automated efficiency, we are already a lot less forgiving of each other’s imperfections and errors. But it’s really okay to make mistakes, as long as we acknowledge, apologize and try to rectify them. And being on the receiving end, we really need to try and exercise patience and understanding, as there may come a time when we will be asking for the same treatment in return.

 While we still can, let’s give people a chance in the workplace to serve and help one another, with imperfections, yes, but often with a lot of charm and individuality too.