It’s good to remember that kindness, even to a salesman, doesn’t cost anything
Might this work as a theorem? Being electronically connected makes life less difficult and more annoying in equal and opposite measure. You could call it Farndale’s First Law of Interconnectedness.
I’ll give you an example of how it works. I like to shop online, mainly because I don’t live near any shops. But when you fill in a form electronically you have to give an email address, and then, even if you tick the box saying you don’t want “further information” about “other products and services”, you receive “further information” about “other products and services”, often from “carefully selected third parties”. This is why I opened an email account to use solely for filling in forms online, thus leaving my day-to-day email address free for friends and work. And now I find myself checking the ghost email account as often as the real one, just in case something important might have landed in there. It won’t have. I know that. But since when was our relationship with computers rational?
When it comes to giving out your phone number online, that is trickier. Our house is quite hard for delivery vans to find, so I have to give a correct number rather than a made-up one, and this always results in cold calls.
I’ve had a spate of them lately asking if I want to consolidate my debts. If they come through on the landline they can be screened by our answering machine because the number comes up as “unavailable”. But as I’m more likely to be on my mobile when a delivery arrives, that is the number I have started giving out. And, annoyingly, cold callers show up as a number on it, rather than the word “unavailable”, and this number often looks quite interesting. A few recent ones have started 001 or 011, which means they could be from someone in America that I might actually want to talk to. So I pick up.
I have two stock responses: one is to say I don’t have any debts (it’s not quite true, but it amuses me to hear the confusion in their voices because they assume everyone must have debts); the other is to press the “end call” button. But now after seeing a letter in The Times I am feeling guilty about this rudeness: “People who work in call centres do not do so because they love harassing [people]. They do it because it is a job: unrewarding but better than the dole.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. That cold caller could be one of my children in a few years’ time, trying to get a foot on the work ladder. So from now on I will explain politely that I have no need of their services. It won’t cost me anything and might make their day a little less soul-destroying.
I once went to Dharamsala to interview the Dalai Lama and asked him probably the most original question he had ever been asked, one that he had surely never had fired at him before, nor will have again. What is the secret to achieving happiness? His answer, which I often think about, came without hesitation and was two words long: “Be kind.”
It was almost as if people had been asking him that one all his life.
I’m very impressed by the devious tricks overweight women have been using to make themselves look thinner. A study of 2,000 of them has found they use bigger handbags, “control underwear” that holds you in and flatters the shape, taller hair, high-heeled shoes, and big sunglasses to make their faces look smaller. What are the male equivalents? Perhaps there aren’t any, which would be revealing in itself. Is it that men care less about what others think of them, or are they just too lazy to bother?
What is it with Cliff Richard? He seems to have had a shame bypass. He always makes a fuss when Radio 1 refuses to play his records, and now he has announced that he wants to have a duet with the boy band One Direction. So far they haven’t been returning his calls (perhaps his number comes up as “unavailable”). Lady Gaga and Rihanna also failed to take up his generous offer to sing duets with them. It’s unbearable. Can’t one of the old boy’s friends have a quiet word with him?