Stop and Think: Paying Attention is a Lost Skill

On Friday, May 9 at 4:50 PM I received a phone call at the family attraction / education facility / conservation based non-profit where I work.  While I know that one can't confidently estimate a person's age by her voice, I do know that one can often at least guess within two decades of a person's age, and that often the person's manner on the other end of the line gives away age, as well.

The female voice on the other end of the line sounded to be between late 20s to late 30s.  She was very matter of fact.  She identified herself as calling from the public library system of the largest county in our state, specifically the children's reading program in which donations are used as prizes for the number of books read during summer.

"I'm calling because the admission tickets you donated expired and I'd like to have them replaced."

Of course I asked a few questions.  Unfortunately, this was not, by any means, the first time that someone has phoned to say that tickets we donated to their organization or cause had expired, when they had not expired.  She had begun confidently, but the more I spoke the more befuddled she sounded and the more she sounded to be compensating for a mistake.

I asked her when the tickets expired.  January 15, she said.  I took out the ticket order form that had gone through the many steps required to get from a request, all the way to a packet with postage on it placed in the outgoing mail.  I took out her original letter, the request form that had gone through the steps, and the photocopy of the front of the packet that I'd mailed after affixing postage.  I told her that the request form had been fulfilled on January 15 and that the postmark was dated January 15.  I then told her that on the front of each 1 1/2 inch by 3 1/2 inch ticket are the words 'This ticket expires 2 years from the date printed below', and that the date is printed directly below that line.

She was quiet, then stated "I'm sure they expired.  I remember opening the packet and seeing that right on the tickets it said January 15 and that they were expired."

I explained that if she would scan one of the tickets to email, that would be helpful for me.

She said that she could not.

I told her that if she would just look at one while we're on the phone, then, that she could read it aloud to me.  She said that she could not.

She explained that she had opened the packet, saw that the tickets were expired, and had tossed them into the shredder.

All 100 of them.

Mind you, she did this without getting an opinion from any of her 20 or 30 coworkers.

She insisted that she'd shredded them all without saving even just one ticket as an example for when she phoned us.   Again, she stated that she wanted a replacement donation of 100 more.

Without considering what is required on our end, for a staff member to secure approval for 100 tickets and get them out.

She felt her word would be good enough, I guess, and that our accounting department doesn't have anything in place to account for the thousands of tickets that we donate annually.  The auditors don't care about things like that, right?

Okay, now I'm being sarcastic.  I apologize.

She didn't, though.  She simply insisted for a bit longer that she may have made "a mistake" by shredding 100 admission tickets with a value of $1,795.00, before asking anyone else to look at one of them, before saving one as an example, before anything.

I pulled out a ticket from my desk and looked at how the phrase is placed and worded.  Clear as day the tickets she phoned about would have read, in large font, 'This ticket expires 2 years from the date below: January 15, 2014'.  In other words, they expire on January 15, 2016.

How do I know?  The tickets are all printed the same, and when someone has scanned an "expired" ticket to us before, asking for replacement, we look at it and the ticket has not expired at all.

It boggles my mind that someone would glance at the words and see only the word 'expires' and the date (that the tickets were printed), and nothing else, and that then she'd drop $1,795.00 worth of tickets into a shredder.

Me?  I'm not that confident.  I've learned in life that double and triple checking is important.  I had an office procedures teacher in college who kept failing any document her students turned in, until it came back in a flawlessly proofread form.

Nowadays, so many people are used to sending and reading texts on the run, in the car at a traffic signal, and using as few letters as possible to do so, I think people are training themselves not to pay attention to detail. 

They are so busy trying to catch on their latest tech gadget every detail of an outing, or the food on their plate, or something they just bought, or that pretty rock over there, or ... that they aren't in the moment, aren't present, aren't focusing on what matters.  Scanning, scanning, scanning.

Last week here in our county, a young woman  driving on a busy highway hit a beautiful deer, leaving it struggling in a ditch before it slowly died.  What did she tell the police?  "I was busy texting and didn't see the deer."

"Busy texting?"  How about being busy DRIVING, moron.

So back to the tickets.  While this young woman threw away nearly $2,000.00 worth of admission tickets for a childrens' summer reading program, I bet she paid plenty of attention to whatever text was on her phone in her desk.  Who was going out for drinks that evening and when and where.

I hope she went to the wrong place at the wrong time and sat with the wrong people.

So what will happen to the tickets?  The woman is phoning again on Monday, to speak with my overworked Office Manager. Who will then have to explain the whole thing to the CFO.  Who will have to decide whether we send out another 100 tickets.  And guess what already overworked, low paid employee will get to do the paperwork and so on so that Miss Cantfocus gets another pile of tickets and doesn't have to be embarassed in front of her employer...

Yup.  Me.

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