Where do you live; on paper or in the real world?

One of my greatest bugbears in life can sound slightly pedantic when written down and explained, yet I can’t help but feel that it’s responsible for a huge amount of injustice, unhappiness and difficulty in the world. It might sound completely innocuous to begin with, but if you stop and think about it, it really is quite damning about a huge number of people in the world.

“No, you can’t do that.”

Think about it for a second, what information is actually being conveyed when somebody says that to you? Are they actually meaning that you are incapable of completing a feat? To take a case study, I once worked a six month contract for a big high-street bank, mostly sitting on reception. One Tuesday morning, a gentleman who was attempting to transfer funds in order to purchase a new house came into the branch. He asked me to transfer however many thousand pounds it was to his solicitor. Easy. Done. Sent.

Then he informed me he needed a simple confirmation letter to hand to his solicitor, confirming that the money was from his bank account. Easy, I thought. Open MS Word, type about fifty words. At my typing rate, that’d be done in less than a minute. Then, suddenly, the neddish drawl that I had grown to loathe in my three months announced itself into the conversation.

“Naaaaaaaw, ye can’t do tha’!” I can’t actually recall her name at this point. I’ve probably repressed it for reasons of keeping my sanity. I only remember three things about her. First, her fake tan was the most atrotiously crispy brown bake I think I’ve ever seen. Second, my private school upbringing would throw up in its mouth a little every time I had to deal with her (I know that paints me as a bit of an elitist – I am). Finally, she was hands down the most infuriating work colleague I’ve ever had.

She didn’t outrank me. In fact, she had exactly the same job I did. However, she was one of these people who had to stick their nose into everyones business. I can’t imagine that this was the first time in history that someone had asked for a confirmation letter, yet her only response was to stand next to me and repeadetly bleat “Naaaaaaaw, ye can’t do tha’!” like a sheep caked in mud. I gave the gentleman an apologetic glance and inquired to my colleague as to how then, would we be able to provide the information that his solicitor required? Needless to say she didn’t know. All she knew is that I couldn’t write a letter. All I knew was that this was making us both look like utter morons in front of the customer and that said customer was quickly getting annoyed. So the moment she pissed off, back to doing wahtever it was she was supposed to be doing, I apologised to the gentleman and quickly typed up and printed his letter.

Despite the fact that apparently, I couldn’t do that.

Let’s be sensible about this. I can’t fly. I can’t lift a car over my head. At the moment, I can’t draw a anturalistic picture of a human being with any great accuracy. I am, however, a dab hand with a keyboard and can, quite easily, type up and print a short letter. What the infuriating oompa-loompa I worked with actually meant was that somebody in the bank’s heirarchy, whom neither of us had ever, nor would ever meet, somewhere compeltely removed from actual frontline customer service, did not want me to write a letter for the gentleman.

That’s fine. But those are chalk and cheese in terms of what they actually mean. True, they might have the same intended outcome, unhelpful to all as it was, but that’s it. I did a little digging afterwards and found out that apparently the ‘no letters’ rule was there in order save time when dealing with customers, so people in my position didn’t get bogged down in extra paperwork.

I actually laughed when I was told this. Instead of taking one minute to quickly write a letter, five were wasted with absolutely no productive results. Ignore for a moment that the apparent goal here was not to help customers, but to ‘save time’ (which, in a customer service industry would be laughable if it weren’t so despicible), but concentrate instead on the fact that this person’s overly stringent attention to the letter of the rules, rather than the spirit of them actually ended up making the situation worse than it would have been.

But do you think this ever occured to her? Obviosuly, I don’t know the inner workings of her mind, but I’d confidently wager my home against it.

I have never, and will never, understand those who place the following of rules and regulations above achieving the goal that those rules and regulations are trying to achieve. I’m sure you know at least five people in your everyday life who operate like this; bureaucratic cock-blockers who you sense live their day-to-day life in fear of being told off by whoever their boss is. People who’ve never quite realised that they’re not in primary school anymore and the world won’t, in fact, end if every hoop isn’t jumped through.

You’re probably expecting some sort of advice about how to deal with these people at this point. Unfortunately, I don’t have it. These people are a plague that will never go away, always, unfailingly standing between you and whatever goal you’re trying to achieve. In life, they are the post-office worker repeatedly saying that the driving license application must be filled in, in black, not blue ink. You, on the other hand, are the old man in his 70s, standing in front of her, stamping his foot in impotent rage, shouting “But it doesn’t matter!” to absolutely no avail, before ripping the application up and storming out as fast as your old bones and failing muscles will consent to carry you. True story, I saw this happen once.

No, the procedurenazis are here and are never going to go away. All we can do is hope that each and every one of them gets stuck on the fifth floor of a burning building with no access to a fire escape and, just as they are all piling into the elevator to take them to safety, their leader announces; “Wait, it says specifically that the elevator must not be used in the case of a fire!” Then, in an ending befitting all zealots, they get to happily die for their beliefs… and the rest of us can actually get some work done.


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