IN dealing with the countless frustrations that come with supervising work of any kind in this town, or understanding what one reads in newspapers, sees on television or hears on radio, I draw on the words of one of my wife’s former co-workers.
This employee, whose name I have never been interested in storing to memory, was a constant source of angst for my wife because he held a university degree, appeared to have lived in the city for a considerable period of time, and was an adult. Yet in spite of these three straightforward factors, he consistently made errors that she would have found irritating, incomprehensible and irrational even in a child.
It was only in the most extreme of circumstances that she failed to restrain herself and it was after one of those that I picked up the phrase, “Don’t think we all understood things in the same way.”
His statement to her at that time went something like, “Madame, we might all have gone to the same classes and they told us the same things but don’t think we all understood things in the same way.”
Of course, this guy presents no threat whatsoever to Jesus Christ, Confucious or Sun-Tzu regarding their positions on the list of most quoted wise sayings.
But he is on my list because he spoke a very prominent truth in this society, even though it is ridiculous. The idea that one can ‘understand’ something wrongly is so mind-boggling that it must be true (see paragraph one above).
His eruption, by the way, was a result of my wife lambasting him for yet again being difficult (it would be impolite to say “stupid”).
You see, he had addressed an envelope wrongly.
Not by writing the wrong name or address on it, but by addressing it wrongly in all other ways: He had picked it up, presumably, placed it upside down on the table, flipped it somehow so the open end was facing him, and then written the name and address on the back. Yes – the side where the flap closes over. Yes – upside down, moreover, but I still don’t want to use the word “stupid”.
And, apparently, whereas along the way in his thirty plus years on earth he had probably been told how to address envelopes, he believed he had not understood how to do it the same way everyone else in the world did.
In the past, my ignorance of this fact about how we understand things differently had led me to agonise greatly whenever I issued instructions such as “Please wash that car” or “Clean this room” and returned to find no evidence of said instructions having been heard or followed.
Ever since I heard what my wife’s colleague had said I had undergone an education and re-oriented my thinking. I had my own understanding of the instruction “clean” and the cleaner had his. Why had I not thought of this before? I would have saved myself countless headaches and litres of bile building up at the back of my throat!
And so last weekend, I found myself happily sharing that small pearl of wisdom with a poor man who was beside himself with anger at an electrician, a team of builders, and a TV repair man.
All three had made promises to be in position early one morning fixing very visible problems ahead of Easter celebrations, and none had shown up by the time breakfast was done.
It had been wrong to assume that they had understood the concepts of “being there” or “first thing in the morning” or, indeed, time in general.
Then, three days later, my wife went back to her clinic to collect the results of a set of some rather serious medical tests (as opposed to the casual, jocular by-the-way tests, I suppose) and was told with a small chuckle that there were none.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Sorry, madam,” she was told, by a clinical employee who recalled her so well from her visit just a couple of days prior, “They didn’t do the tests.”
Refusing to believe that this employee knew immediately that the tests had not been done, without having to check with any laboratory official, or doctor, or even pretending to consult a file or computer app, she persisted with her query.
“Madame, they didn’t do the tests. The doctor didn’t order for them,” said the employee, continuing without much prompting, “Yes, he called and told the lab but he didn’t follow-up so they threw the samples away.”
“Without doing the tests?!!!”
During a very long #eish moment, my wife thought up a couple of questions such as: 1. Why didn’t the laboratory follow-up with the doctor so they could do the damn tests he had ordered by telephone? 2. Why didn’t the laboratory take action as soon as they realised that the doctor had not put his request in writing? 3. Wasn’t clinic bureaucracy going to affect her health, because how was she going to get the right treatment without a proper diagnosis of her situation? 4. What (the heck) do we do now?
The clinic staffer had responses for all three respectively: 1. (Chuckle, Chuckle) 2. (Chuckle, Chuckle) 3. Well, yes… 4. Please come in and take the tests again.
To which she pointed out that the tests would probably not make sense now because the situation she was in when she came in to do them was very different.
“Yes,” said the clinic staff, “they would probably be useless.”
Another #eish moment ensued.
We might all have gone to the same classes and they told us the same things but don’t think we all understood them in the same way.