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Violence And Generosity

I had to replace my laptop a little while ago. The old one had put up a good fight, but after two years, a thousand articles, two drafts of a novel, and two books of compilations, she finally surrendered to the inevitable. For a hundred dollars I couldn't have asked any more from her, but it still meant that my wife and I would have to share our desktop.

Now she has often said that she thinks what I do is important, for a lot of reasons, and I appreciate that. However, that doesn't mean I'm not going to feel guilty about monopolizing the computer and preventing her from doing the things she enjoys doing. So it meant there was a certain amount of urgency to find me another computer.

Not so long ago a friend of ours had offered us an old tower to use as back up for music and graphic files. I figured if that offer was still available it would make a good stopgap until I could find another affordable laptop. I called our friend and she said no problem she'd have it ready in a day for me; she wanted to completely dump the machine's hard drive.

Ten minutes later she called me back and said: "Let me buy you a lap top, I've got some extra money and I can afford "x". To say I was taken aback and grateful has to be the understatement of the year. This is a person whose finances up until a year ago were so bad that she almost lost her house. But through some fortune and luck she found herself solvent and with money to spare.

As she put it, one of the great things about having extra money was that she was in a position to be able to do things like buying me a new used laptop without having to even think about it. What I find amazing is that a person whose existence has been fairly hand to mouth for years – a single mom raising three boys – is able to understand the concept of extra money while people who make thousands of dollars a week can't.

The money she spent on my laptop would have bought food for a month for her and the one son who still lives at home, or she could have just frittered it away on things. I wouldn't have begrudged her a penny of it, because she'd been so long without money to spend on herself. But she had bought everything she wanted and needed for her self, given each of her sons money to do with as they felt, and that was enough for her.

So this was all wonderful, I ordered a slightly newer model of what I had before, with a little more power and a slightly bigger hard drive. It also came with a DVD player, something I thought would be very useful for reviewing purposes as I can now watch movies anywhere I can plug in. But most important to me was the fact that it came with a dial up modem.

I know for most people that's not usually high on their list of priorities, but we haven't been able to afford the jump to high-speed yet (although that might be changing soon) so a dialup modem is an essential. Needless to say when the laptop showed up and I couldn't find any place which even looked like you could plug a phone line into it I was a wee bit perturbed. I double-checked the advertisement on the website, and the receipt they had sent with the laptop, and they both included a 56k modem as being part of the computer.

I immediately phoned the store and was told by the gentleman who answered, that there was a modem, and the inputs were on the right hand side. I said that unless they were making 56k modems without phone jacks anymore there wasn't one, and what did he plan on doing about it?

First he made the generous offer of allowing me to pay for shipping it back to him, which I declined. I suggested that he send me out a 56k modem for the removable card slot and I'd be happy with that. He agreed to that and said "by the end of the week". That was August 27th. For the next four weeks I phoned; I was polite, I threatened, and I begged and still received the same answer – we're waiting for a reply from our head office.

I finally had enough and phoned the credit card company whose card I had used to order the machine. They assured me that if worse came to worse they would go after them for the money needed for me to purchase the modem. The next time I phoned them I managed to find out where their head office was, and when they refused to do anything I sent a threatening email to the head office explaining the circumstances and what I would do if I hadn't heard back from them in two days.

Ten minutes later I received an email back saying they would express post the modem directly to me from Vancouver the next business day. "We had no idea you wanted the part so urgently" was their excuse. It took all my willpower not to write them back and ask them what they used their brains for, as it obviously wasn't customer service. Instead I simply said yes that would be fine.

They obviously had plenty of removable 56k modems in stock, and brand new ones at that, because when it arrived last Wednesday the box was still shrink wrapped and all the parts were brand spanking new. Why then did it take them nearly six weeks to send me one? Why did they only respond when I threatened them? Why couldn't they just have sent me out the part I needed as soon as they knew it was missing?

Maybe you'll think I'm over reacting, but to me this is indicative of so much that is wrong with our society. If you don't use violence, or an equivalent, no one pays any attention to you. That doesn't strike me as being the sign of a caring society, or at least any I'd recognize as such. Come to think of it, there's not much proof of us being that caring anywhere you look.

Would a caring society allow corporations to charges thousands of dollars to people for a drug that could keep them alive? Would it spend trillions of dollars on war and weaponry when people all over the world go to bed hungry or live in the squalor of refugee camps? Is it any wonder that people all around the world think the only way they can get our attention is through violence?

I'm not saying I agree with that tactic, but all they see is so much evidence of our ability to ignore the plight of other people. With that in mind, it becomes easier to at least understand how people can find themselves so frustrated with waiting for a peaceful resolution to their plight that they resort to violence as an answer.

I know it seems like I've take a huge leap from the business of buying a computer to terrorist attacks, but the one is just a milder instance of the same flaw in our society that causes the other. We have forgotten what generosity means, and I don't just mean being free with money. It's about being receptive to other people's plight and responding to it with positive action and not passing the buck.

Why is that so difficult for us to understand?

Leap In The Dark

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