A sign of the times: brazen contempt for you and me
The Times, November 8, 2007
After you read this you’ll see them everywhere – like a newly learnt word that crops up all over the place when previously you could swear you’d never seen it before.
Signs of disrespect (SODs) are found in all the worst public institutions. “D*n’t t@ke !t out on our staff,” shouts one in lurid purple and yellow on the Underground. They are everywhere, from hospitals and council offices to the security queues at Heathrow and Gatwick.
When you see one of these bossy, passive-aggressive signs threatening the public with prosecution or arrest, you quickly know two things about the institution you’re dealing with:
1) They’re lax about punishing those who break the law. After all, action speaks for itself, only inaction needs PR.
2) Customer service is diabolical or non-existent. People are loath to resort to violence and generally do so only when all other avenues of protest are shut. These organisations have pushed people to their limits.
But instead of sprucing up their act (which would require effort and a change of attitude), these institutions menace the public into accepting their unacceptably poor standards.
Yes, it’s often said that the British are a nation of yobs. But what’s more striking is the sheep-like docility with which the average British customer accepts jaw-droppingly bad service. These institutions don’t know how lucky they have it: they can provide a shoddy service, treat the public like dirt (or potential criminals) and still take the moral high ground should the customer dare complain. But of course, there is no way to complain. These monopoly institutions specialise in faceless bureaucracy where no one is directly accountable or even contactable.
Wouldn’t it be better if these public bodies instead of displaying their brazen contempt for the public at large with their SODs actually dealt with the law-breaking minority? But they don’t. A study on violence against nurses published in 2003 by the National Audit Office found that NHS managers and the police failed to take the issue seriously. Although some police forces are prepared to prosecute offenders, the Royal College of Nursing told the report’s authors that too many are not. Putting up a sign is like putting sticking plaster on a broken arm.
What’s worse is that this slackness is accompanied by a huge power grab. Only the State can now enforce standards of behaviour and it jealously guards its power. The police certainly won’t bother to arrest a gang of terrorising thugs, but if you take any action yourself, see how quickly they appear. And rather than target the thugs, they’ll be more concerned with the person who usurped their role as enforcer.
Let me suggest a new advertising slogan; one that targets all these rotten institutions. Try this: “Don’t take it out on the public.”
Tags: The Times