COLUMN | The public servant

Columnist Andre Carrel shares his view on people in service

By Andre Carrel

The designation ‘public servant’ refers to a worker’s employer. By my reasoning, the ‘public servant’ designation should apply to any person who serves the public.

From my side of the exchange, it does not matter whether the income of person who is providing me with a service is drawn from the taxes I pay or is included in the price of what I purchase.

Retirement affords me the luxury to observe and reflect on the people who work in glass cages where their every move is exposed to constant public scrutiny. I spent most of my working hours in the years before retirement hidden in an office.

Long before my days in administration, I worked on or with machinery, often alone. How do people cope when, in performing their job, their every move is exposed to the public?

Their employers expect them to complete their assigned work accurately and efficiently. The public expects them to be friendly, to always be in a good mood and always ready to be interrupted from what they doing to pay attention to what our priority may be. How do they do it?

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Occasionally, I am looking for something in a store, not sure where to find it and, frequently, not even sure of the correct name of the item. I know that I look lost when a worker offers to help. They always understand what I mean by what I am attempting to describe and without hesitation, they tell me where I can find the object.

More often than not the worker will escort me to the spot, point to an item on the shelf, and ask if this is what I need.

I have no idea how many items are on display in a grocery or hardware store. How do these workers know where everything is? How do they know from my slapdash description what I am looking for?

As I take the wanted item off the shelf I hear “Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?” when “Here you are, you buffoon!” would often be more appropriate. How do they do it?

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I am the kind of person who could easily be taken advantage of. I used to know what made my vehicle run back in the days when you had to fiddle with the choke to start the engine on a cold morning, double-clutch to shift gears, and when, under the hood, you could actually recognize the engine block, the carburetor, and other essential components.

When I take my vehicle in for regular service, my instructions are to “make it like new”. They could tell me that my car needs a new synchronized digitizer balancing reflector at a cost of $147.85 plus installation, and I would believe them.

I rely on the worker at the counter to understand what I mean. I trust them to keep my old car running, just like new. They look after my vehicle, and they trust me to pay the bill. Why?

There is something profoundly democratic about the day-to-day personal exchange between customers and workers serving the public, fellow citizens living in the community who are their neighbours.

No conveniences and promises brandished by distant internet wizards can match what workers engaged in providing a service to the public in their own community can provide.

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