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Monday, December 12, 2011

How Low Can We Go?

I discovered an unknown direct debit coming out of my wife's bank account so I called the bank to check it out but they wouldn't talk to me because I am not the account holder. I explained the problem knowing full well that the person to whom I was speaking would probably not help me. I was right. Even on a hypothetical question, this guy stuck to the company line. I called a second time and spoke to someone else who was more helpful although likewise unwilling to actually do anything. Customer service person number one even threatened me by mentioning the law and the fact that if he knew the account number and password, he would put a stop on the account to prevent me accessing my wife's information.

I understand the rationale behind this policy. Stringent privacy provisions are needed to protect people. I might be trying to steal from my wife, or gain some advantage over her by accessing her financial details. I could be doing something wrong and potentially harmful to her. The person on the phone doesn't know me from a bar of soap. Just because I say that I have my wife's permission to access her account, doesn't mean, from their point of view, that I do.

Because some people lie, everyone is a potential liar. This is the world we live in. The default position is mistrust. My word counts for nothing with strangers because of all the people who can't be believed. Honesty surprises us because dishonesty has become so acceptable. We all say tsk tsk, what a shame, most people are good but the few rotten apples spoil the basket. The problem is that we are all living under the rules and regulations foisted upon us by those trying to protect us from the rotten apples. A worse problem is that we are all rotten apples but we keep pretending we are not. We tell ourselves we are the good guys and we sit around lamenting the tragic decline of standards in our communities but we have contributed to that degeneration, either by our actions or our inaction.

Imagine a world where people could trust each other. No need to lock the car or the house. People would be respectful and polite. No one would be self serving. Our teenagers wouldn't be having sex and getting drunk, and killing themselves by driving their cars too fast. No one would be trying to rip anybody off. Money wouldn't dictate what can be done and what can't be done.

If you think all this sounds too fanciful, too utopian, if you want to call me an idealist then go ahead but know this: such criticism implies that you have given up and accepted the new norm, the new low standards. If you are willing to keep on lowering the bar just to keep people happy, consider the end result of such thinking. Consider the future we are heading for if this slide continues. Everyone else is doing it, is not a statement of tolerance, it's an admission of weakness and defeat. We should keep fighting.

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