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It's a Gray Area: Our motto should be 'Make the system work'

March 30, 2013|By James P. Gray

As everyone with any awareness realizes, life today is complicated. Nevertheless, things do seem to get done successfully, mostly because the incentives and flexibility in the private sector deliver what people need, when they need it and for an acceptable cost.

But things can always be better — and that is where we come in. As members of society, each of us can make substantial contributions to our world and way of life by helping to make the system work!

This is more than good citizenship to make us feel good about ourselves. It really does help.

Obviously included in this is being a knowledgeable and active voter. But in addition, we can also help by expressing reasoned opinions during our everyday conversations with our friends, and also on talk radio programs and in letters to the editors of the print and electronic media outlets, as well as letters to public office holders. On this last point, it is a little-known fact that most elected officials have a formula: that one personal letter stressing a position on an issue represents at least 30 similar views among constituents. So these letters really count in helping to make the system work.

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Another important contribution is selectively questioning the authority of government officials, employers and others who have some control over our lives about their actions and rules. It is a natural tendency for human beings inappropriately to expand their power over us, and if no one questions that expansion, inappropriate results will frequently occur.

Recently, before my wife and I took a wonderful trip to South Africa, I dutifully called Citibank to inform the bank that I was planning to use my VISA card in some specified countries between some specified dates. But after I used the card just one time during the trip, the bank suspended it.

After returning home, I called Citibank, reminded the bank of my previous call and complained. The agent immediately offered apologies, which, of course the agent is trained to do, but I insisted that I be given a credit of $50 for the hassle. If not, I said I would cancel the card and take my business elsewhere. Citibank agreed to the $50 credit.

In my view, I did Citibank a favor, because someone in the hierarchy will soon see this credit and ask why it occurred. This, in turn, will help Citibank focus on what went wrong, tighten procedures, do a better job serving its customers and then make more money. So for everybody's sake, I believe I was making the system work.

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