Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Side of the Fence

Earlier this year, one of the security guards at the grading lab made the transition from security to diamond grader. From my perspective, he and the other guards had always looked carefree and cheerful, in contrast to the misery I felt in my occupation, so I didn't understand why he made the change, nor did I feel comfortable asking. After all, this was the very guy who led my training group through the security procedures when I first started. Now, he was the fresh fish in the lab, whose work I double-checked and corrected. It's also possible that there was a part of me that felt he'd crossed some kind of line.

That line was never more clearly drawn than it was today, when my car battery died on me as I was about to head home.

I am one of the very few people in my department who works the 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. shift. Most people either work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., or they come in at 8 a.m. and sacrifice half an hour of their lunch break in order to leave at 4:30. So, at the end of the day, by the time I got back to my car, I was practically the only one left in the parking lot. With nobody else around to ask for help, I walked over to the security booth.

As I approached, the old lady guard noticed me and mumbled a message into her walkie-talkie. Despite my close proximity, I couldn't make out a word of what she said. She seemed to be speaking in some form of coded security person language. In any case, I was sure her communication was concerning me, but I couldn't see why my innocuous manner merited any special report. It was as if she was making a final transmission in case I was about to go ballistic on them.

When I explained the situation, her immediate response was "We can't help you, sir." Her equally ancient male counterpart, the same guy I waved good night to every evening as I drove out of the parking lot, who always smiled and waved back, added, "Just protocol, sir." The old crone at least conceded that it was a silly rule, but they remained determined not to offer any assistance, beyond letting me know that if I called a friend, they were allowed to let him into the parking lot.

I decided to walk back toward the lab first to see if there wasn't anyone else still around who could help. No such luck, so I made the call and then walked back to the security booth to let them know what to expect. This time, it was the old man who dialed in to HQ as I approached. Then, before I could even speak, he said to me, "Sir, back away, please, and remain on your side of the fence." I get it. We're not pals. But does that mean you have to shed all semblance of humanity the instant someone actually needs you? Protocol, I suppose, would be his practiced answer, as it likely is for everything.

In the past, I had claimed that I was "just here to do my job" as I settled into my seat and put in my eight hours in silence. But I realize now what it really means to surrender all human responsibilities in accordance with some soulless performance for a meager income. Tomorrow, when I head into work, I will not be "just here to do my job." I will be there to collect an income, yes, but it will not make me any less a human being. Should another man find himself in desperate circumstances and in need of my assistance, I will be there for him, whether I'm on the clock or not.


Czardoz said...

I liked how the geezer asked to see my driver's license before he let me pass. I guess diamond thieves don't have driver's licenses. He probably ate his own hemorrhoids when he saw me coming.

Sam Kahn said...

Would it be worth placing a complaint to your employer? Seems kind of silly that these people are told not to aid company employees.

Henry said...

No, I can understand why they aren't allowed to help. Even if they were acting independently as good Samaritans, it might be misinterpreted as them doing their job, in which case, if something went wrong, the company could be liable. It's safer for them if they never exceed the limited scope of their duties.

I was taken aback mainly by the geezer's misplaced panic, as if I were some sort of criminal. But I wouldn't say he did something wrong. He just did his job poorly.