Say you are out and about and want to buy a cup of coffee. I’m not going there, you say to yourself. They pay no tax. And I’m not going there either: they treat their staff abysmally. So you compromise. You go the third option, or even the fourth, or even an independent, where they treat their staff fabulously and only use fair trade coffee. The one that is out of the way, harder to find and which will close down in a year because Brand X are moving in four doors away. The one with furniture you are convinced is sourced from non-sustainable forests.
If you look below the surface at these brands, they are all, shall we say, falling short. But one, one above all has by far the worst reputation. The one we boycott. The one we protest about. There is a competitor brand with just as bad practices, but with marvellous PR. It does not have its windows smashed on marches.
But you wouldn’t want to work there. You wouldn’t want your children to work there. But brilliant PR. Lovely ambience. Rather good service. While its competitor cops all the flak. A miracle, hidden in plain view.
The one we love to hate has really good service as well. Rather better service (and fairer trade coffee beans) than its biggest competitor. Much more efficient, I thought the other day, as I compromised and paid my money and sat sipping, guiltily. They’ve really thought about this, I said to myself.
Not quite as guiltily I went to its competitor the same week. I didn’t have a choice because it was the only coffee shop in the building. And I got shouted at. Shouted at. For standing one foot to the left of the exact spot in the universe where my feet should have been, because I had not spotted the sign telling me to ‘queue here please’ because it was early and I was tired and grieving. Surly sipping ensued, notebook in my furious hand, penning a self-righteous and angry letter to the owner (of the universe) in complaint.
I did not stop to think that it was also early for the woman who shouted at me. That she might have been tired too. And grieving. In the very same shop in an entirely different city I have seen the same experience transformed into gold through the medium of conversation. With each order a smile, and with each smile a unique and differentiated question to the human standing in front of her, about their day, their life. One of them questioned her back, slightly affronted. ‘I’m not doing this because I have been trained to,’ the woman said calmly. ‘I am doing this because you will have a better day because of it.’
This was all in Brand Y. Which has a better reputation, but only marginally better practices, than Brand Z.
And I am the same. I am the same.
I am all of these brands. On some days offering a great service, and on others scowling and shouting and self-justifying. On some days I am fair trade, and on others I burn down the forests. I queued at my own counter the other day, and I got shouted at. By me, at me. And all I was doing was standing there, minding my own business. Isn’t that what I am best at? Minding me, my own business? I am smiling at you now, but wait till I get home.