West of Tomorrow & Civility

Civility & Customer Service in the 21st Century

A few mornings ago, I took a friend’s vehicle in to a car-dealer service department for a safety recall service. It was a software update, quickly applied. (Thank you Toyota.) When I picked it up, I asked the service technician if they had an extra car mat or two they could give us. (My friend likes to keep her car clean, especially on the inside.)

Anger customer

Civility’s Absence…a testament to what?

The tech told me “sure” and returned in less than a minute with half a dozen mats and a smile. I thanked him, to which he replied he was “glad to help,” then complimented me for not having cursed at him or been nasty. I assured him I tried not to do that, as a rule, and he left reiterating his appreciation for my being a courteous customer.

The conversation struck me as odd and the more thought I about it, the odder it seemed. I’m not naïve about life in retail/customer service. I’ve trained Showroom Managers, Sales Consultants and Customer Service Representatives and I’ve been a District Manager responsible for customer service. So I’ve been on the business end of enough customers to know how nasty they can be.

That said, in all my years as an observant consumer, I can’t recall being critiqued by a service provider on the courtesy I extended him/her. Was I gratified to be categorized as “one of the nice ones?” Sure. But driving home, I couldn’t help wondering what the man’s comment said about our society as a whole. I was all over the road on this one. My kinder/gentler side concluded the tech’s remark was a terrible commentary on the state of social courtesy, just as the skeptic in me came to my rescue to assure me I was reading too much into the experience.

Courtesy & 21st Century Social Karma

But after a little more thought, I realized we couldn’t get off that easily. The man’s attitude…and his need to comment on mine…came from somewhere. I concluded his attitude had be rooted in experiences at once unfavorable & frequent enough to:

  1.  Metastasize into a negative view of customers in general, and;
  2. Move him to comment when someone behaved better than expected.

I’m an optimistic/idealistic kind of guy. One who has spent 20+ years as a Marine officer probably has to be. So it bothers me when evidence pops up suggesting our collective behavior falls woefully short of what “should be.” For both practical and philosophical reasons, we have to do better. As Clay Conover, the protagonist of my contemporary novel “West of Tomorrow” observes:

“Our habitual treatment of people who have no choice but to put up with our worst behavior speaks volumes about us.”

Clay’s observation in this passage refers to individual behavior, but is no less applicable to  society as a whole or an era in that society’s history. I suspect the generalized nastiness of our time is (at least in part) a spin-off of multiple contextual realities with which we all contend. Among them are:

  1. A hyper-stimulated, frenetic pace of life. It frays & flays the nerves even when we’re  not aware of it. It results in chronic impatience, borne of the ceaseless pressure to perform.
  2. Less and less “down-time.” Everyone needs down-time, but the continued pressure noted above obliges us to convince ourselves we’re the exception(s). This phenomenon further “shorten’s our fuse” while encouraging us to see the worst in ourselves when we fail to live up to our own unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
  3. Exponential growth in the rate of change & complexity leading to confusion, disorientation & alienation plays a part. This leads us either to lose perspective & conclude we are indeed less competent than everyone else or to push ourselves harder toward success by each “failure.”

But on reflection, these look to me like symptoms to me, rather than causes. They help explain behavior but not what brought us here. Which leads to the question, “so okay…what did bring us here?”

 West of Tomorrow & Our Social Identity

 Much is made today, of how America isn’t what it used to be. Egalitarian progressives, Libertarian and Neo-Conservatives often observe this, though each point to different causative factors. As a young man, I lived through the self-conscious, tortured activism of the late 60s & 70s. By the time Ronald Reagan ushered in the conservative backlash on a recipe of vague generalities & repartee, I was a field grade officer with strong interests in both domestic and international geopolitics. I watched as the economic and legal scales tilted inexorably toward the already advantaged & kept waiting for the inevitable swing backward toward the center.

 I’m still waiting. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lionized the wealthy, not for their virtue, but for their wealth alone. Meanwhile, increasingly less thought is given to the working and middle classes. They are increasingly treated as drones doing the work no one else will…society’s interchangeable parts to be discarded at corporate America’s convenience, in the name of fractional increases in marginal profits.

A comment by one of my CEO’s during my last years as a Corporate Trainer is illustrative of the contempt in which labor is held. The CEO and I were reviewing the secret shopping reports from one of our districts. After a particularly bad one, he observed:

“Ten dollars an hour doesn’t get you much on the labor market these days.”

Interested in keeping my job, I refrained from observing the obvious, to wit: ten dollars doesn’t get them much, either. But his words, I realize now, were indicative of an attitude at the root of the discourtesy of our time.

Business management is now comfortable despising the efforts of its workers while taking little to no ownership for rectifying their hypothetical shortcomings. It’s cheaper to cut them loose. Conservative politicians feel they can (or perhaps must) characterize almost half the country as being “dependent on government” & “unwilling to take personal responsibility and care for their lives;”

Meanwhile the Supreme Court cloaks corporations with the status of people, while government’s regulatory arm is willing to absolve them of egregious, often criminal excess because they’re “too big t o fail.” Mustn’t upset the moneyed interests who will finance the next campaign…

 Stewardship…Somewhere West of Tomorrow

Our sustainable tomorrow faces challenges highly resistant to simple, monolithic solutions. In the second decade of the 21st Century, we need a social model reaffirming Stewardship at all levels. This Stewardship recognizes the fact most military leaders have long known, to wit: all organizations ride to victory or defeat on the efforts of intelligent, committed subordinates…subordinates valued intrinsically, as well as for the outcome of their efforts.

This is a Stewardship reaffirming the stabilizing influence of government, legitimized by its responsiveness to the interests of all its citizens…not simply those who can afford a megaphone loud enough to be heard. This is a model resulting not only in good government, but the lifting up of individuals. This in turn promotes civility borne of genuine regard.

There is not separating the current gracelessness of our age from the exploitative nature of our society. When civility and courtesy become habits, respect follows naturally. When civility and courtesy are considered optional, respect evaporates in the heat of angry, mutual recrimination. Look at our political discourse & disagree with me if you can. Until we come to grips as a society with this truth, the discourtesy epidemic in modern society will remain an eloquent testimony to an order seriously out of touch with itself.

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West of Tomorrow – A Romance of Shifting Truths

Sunrise in the Coastal Range

Half an Hour West of Tomorrow

Recently, someone asked me about West of Tomorrow, my first novel. I did what most writers have been told to do, which was to trot out my thirty second elevator pitch. About midway through, he stopped me with the question he really wanted answered, specifically: “will I like it and if so, why?”

It’s the dreaded question every author must face, at some point. Okay, maybe you’ve written a book. A fair response these days is: “so who hasn’t?” There were almost half a million titles released in English, last year. It may even be a good book. But can’t thousands of authors who published last year make the same claim?  To be fair, I think the answer is yes. So. Why should you read West of Tomorrow? I thought you’d never ask…

West of Tomorrow is an intelligent, thought-provoking romance set in our time. It follows nine pivotal months in the life of Clay Conover as he deals with the search for love on the back side of middle age. In the wake of the near-simultaneous disintegration of his love life and career, Clay is confronted with a dwindling set of options and limited time in which to implement them. As happens so often in times of shifting paradigms and great change, he finds himself in position where he must reinvent himself, personally and professionally. On the professional level, he is in no position to retire.

While Clay has savings enough (he hopes) to get through a prolonged unemployment as he searches for a position commensurate with his skills and experience, it’s not inexhaustible. More importantly, he has past he must confront-and come to terms with-before he can move on to the future he would like to create. Along the way, Clay makes deals with some of the disquieting realities of the new millennium and the elusive questions of fulfillment  and how much control we have over outcomes.

Above all, West of Tomorrow it is about finding of the phoenix in all of us when (as happens to most of us) we find ourselves standing on the edge of cliff, half an hour west of a future at once exciting and uncertain.

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West of Tomorrow & Project 562

Project 562

Just a quick shout out to encourage readers to get behind the project and the people it seeks to reveal. In a time when we’re finally getting around to recognizing Gay & Lesbians as having a honorable place in civilized society, this is long overdue.

Project 562 is the beautiful vision of Matika Wilbur who is on a four year mission to help re-orient & redefine our view of the indigenous peoples of our land. She has a Kick Starter project for funding & anyone who agrees it’s time for a richer, more understanding view of those who were here first, please join me in donating what you can.

We who take our place in the United States for granted have no role in helping our indigenous brothers and sisters define themselves. But maybe we can at least stand aside as the redefine themselves in ways that empower & honor them. Anyway…if you agree with me that Native Americans are a priceless part of our heritage, may I invite you to follow the link & maybe share a dollar or two in behalf of the project?

Just sayin…

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West of Tomorrow- “Why is There So Much Anarchy?”

In my post for today, I’ve included a link to an article published by StratFor. If you’re familiar with them, you’ll be right at home with this story and will not be disappointed by the relatively short time you need to invest in order to take away valuable insights.  As always, StratFor reports & what is with judicious intelligence (& to the extent possible) draws inferences about what’s next. There are few unclassified summaries of our times that are better, IMHO.

If you’re a Progressive as I am, you may finish the article a little dissatisfied with the absence of prescriptive solutions both from an American policy perspective & (more generally) a notion of how an international & outward-looking consciousness might be fostered. All of us who believe in a future, somewhere West of Tomorrow look for solutions that grow out of understanding.

That’s as it should be. But on a practical level, it is for us as (hopefully) thoughtful & reasoning humans to determine what policies we should be urging our duly elected representatives to pursue.If you’ve been paying attention, lately, the kerfuffle over Iran and Benghazi probably has you a bit skeptical with regard to our government to craft an enlightened, never mind intelligent cluster of policies.

I’m going to suggest ever so gently we all get over it and make our wishes known. We have an election coming up. The reasonable and well-founded disgust many of us have over Congressional (& often Executive) behavior shenanigans can easily lead us to conclude it’s hopeless. Still, we’re obliged to make our wishes known. (I know, I know…) Like most of them actually listen! In many cases you may be right. But I’ve always been one of those guilty of hopeful optimism. The truth is, when we speak, some actually listen. For the rest? You know what to do. November is coming. If you haven’t already registered, get started. Avoid the rush & get your absentee ballot…and USE it!

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Where is “West of Tomorrow?”

Change & the Crucible of Growth

I was a weird kid, growing up. Friends made allowances, out of familiarity provided I didn’t make them uncomfortable. But by seventh grade, my peers’ patience had atrophied & by eighth grade, it was painfully obvious I wasn’t cool and would never be. The kinds of things I read, the way I spoke and some of the things I did set me apart–usually in ways adding nothing to my standing.

In retrospect, I think I needed to grow into my identity. Okay, okay…I’m still growing into it. But these days, I don’t rattle around inside myself, as when I was younger. Which doesn’t mean the struggle is over–it’s just less intimidating.

My struggles weren’t (and aren’t) remarkable–and way less painful than many of our brothers and sisters endure, both around the block & around the world. These days I am inspired by what others have weathered and overcome to thrive. But for me and (perhaps) most of us, struggles are most impactful when they are personal. They are relevant (painfully, sometimes) precisely because they are personal. The same can be said of West of Tomorrow, my first novel.

West of Tomorrow–A Story of Becoming

West of Tomorrow

Where are we when we’re “West of Tomorrow?”

The original title was “Half an Hour West of Tomorrow,” but I shortened it because it was well, shorter. Oh…and if fit more comfortably on the cover. But either way, the words in the title point to the dilemma we all face personally and together in the broader global village we share.

 So…where are we when we’re “West of tomorrow?” Individually, west of tomorrow is the self-defining dilemma most of us face at least once. For some of us (either by accident or design) it is one of a series of dilemmas. But sooner or later, we find ourselves balancing precariously on the knife’s edge of choices real, inexorable & irrevocable. We may choose or choose not to choose, but either way, we will never be the same. From the global perspective, west of tomorrow is a series of decisions we make–actively or passively–that will determine our collective fate.

In West of Tomorrow, each of the characters in the story finds themselves half an hour west of their tomorrow. The faint glow of light in the east is for each of them, both potential and warning. Each character will be shaped forever by their choices–choices made against the backdrop of events they understand imperfectly and don’t control. West of Tomorrow is a nuanced tale of human frailty and the phoenix in all of us, set in a time of shifting paradigms and flexible ethics. Coming in 2014 in ebook and paperback.

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