Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

[Dedicated to all who risk entering into relationships.
 It may not feel like it sometimes, but it's worth it.]

When I close my eyes
hieroglyphs and petroglyphs
stream across
my red veined eyelids
I tilt my head
listening to the sound
of all the breaking hearts
across the time-space continuum
a cacophony
it is the music of the human condition

If you feel bad
you’re right on target
crossing all the checkpoints
beginning with shock and surprise
that lock down your thoughts
unable to object
events roll right over you
if you’re on this ride
it’s only because
you got stuck in the mechanism
of promise-making
you didn’t choose to buy this ticket

Falling onto the tracks
the train barreling down
there’s nothing left to say
nothing to think about
only your brain trying
to figure out
who’s that screaming?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Loyalty Programs

Marketing is a business practice that figures out what consumers are interested in and then develops strategies for influencing consumers to become customers. Marketing has grown exponentially from the good old days of print advertising and billboards to robocalls, sidebar and banner ads on social networking sites and commercials preceding the news story you’ve clicked on.

Loyalty programs started out as a good thing that have become, in the instance of airline reward programs, promises that aren’t kept. United Airlines is in the process of merging with Continental Airlines, which means merging their frequent flier programs as well. Just do the math, and you’ll see that the downgrades affecting the lower echelon of loyal elite fliers were inevitable.

Nearly twice as many frequent flier members means that even among the elite, everyone doesn’t get to benefit. It makes sense, from the airline’s perspective, to give preferential treatment to the first class and business class fliers who pay more for tickets and fly more miles compared to economy class fliers. But, the downgrades – from no longer being able to reserve a premium seat at time of booking and only being allowed one free checked bag instead of two – represent promises stretched to the point of being broken no matter how you look at it.

The fact that the fine print says the airlines could change or cancel the programs at any time is no excuse. Depending on technicalities to change the rules while using marketing to raise and nurture loyalty based on promises of rewards is part of what’s wrong with the way that American companies do business. There is something inherently immoral about the scheme. In another context it might be called "bait and switch."

The airlines have a history of breaking promises. We haven’t forgotten the defaulted or vastly reduced pension plans for airline employees and how employees were led to believe during their working years that their pensions were promises of future financial security. The government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation also failed to live up to its promises. Guaranty doesn't mean guaranteed. Words can be manipulated through marketing to mean anything at all.

There are a number of local businesses to which my family is very loyal, even when their prices are slightly or even significantly higher than elsewhere. Why? Because these businesses give great customer service. We can rely on their word; they stand behind what they sell and the services they provide. Their employees are unfailingly polite, competent and honest. These businesses don’t need a separate loyalty program, because by being good at what they do, they keep loyal customers coming back.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Anxiety, Giddiness and Kneejerk Reactions

There’s been a lot of life happening all around me, in the church community and in our family. Along with that life comes lots of anxiety, giddiness and kneejerk reactions that bear some comment.

Just because something someone says or does generates an immediate emotional response inside you doesn’t mean that you have to share your feelings and thoughts with the rest of us immediately. Chances are – if you hung onto those feelings and thoughts for a few hours, or better yet, a day or two, it might change the tone, substance and amount of what you share – to the better. You’ll sound smarter, more thoughtful and be less likely to have to apologize or feel guilty later.

Online forums facilitate sharing one’s thoughts with a dispersed community, but they carry an inherent danger of “opening your mouth before engaging your brain.” Just because you can comment doesn’t mean that you should. Show some judgment and restraint, or as was said in an earlier generation, show some “class.”

When you’re happy while others around you are sad – like when you’ve landed the perfect new job while your buddies are still jobless, struggling to survive, give a thought to how you express your happiness without wounding your friends unintentionally. I’ve written before about how we should be happy for one another’s good fortune, how we shouldn’t have to dampen our happiness unduly. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t celebrate your good fortune. But it’s about tone, substance and amount of sharing again. It’s about empathy and compassion. We used to say, “put yourself in the other’s shoes” and “follow the Golden Rule.”

Some of us, yours truly included, have a core of impulsivity that we have to work really hard to control. Spontaneity and impulsivity are two sides of the same coin – an ability to respond to the world with unfettered enthusiasm and sheer joy or with unedited anger and harsh retribution. It’s easy to forgive or even join in the enthusiastic and joyful spontaneous and impulsive acts of others. They typically don’t cause irreparable or lasting harm.

But it’s often tough to forgive or recover from a flood of anger and paybacks, because the feelings they engender touch our very core notions of who we are and what our relationships are about. Count to ten. Count to a thousand. Make that ten thousand or a million, because it just might be best not to stop counting so that you don’t open those floodgates.

These instances of anxiety, giddiness and kneejerk reactions call for the healthier alternative of slowing down our responses instead of letting them fly out on their own. Slowing down allows space for deliberation and intentionality, so that we are not at the effect of our feelings or gut reactions. Relationships are worth the effort and time that it takes to think about them, invest in them and get them right.