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A 12-step experiment designed to open our hearts, eyes, and minds. Learn more
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Step 03
Switch It Up

There are always people who bother us and situations we try to avoid due to our selfishness. What if we had to do their job? Could we be kinder to them in the future?


Step 03: Switch It Up

Part 1: The Worst People Ever

I try to avoid making rash generalizations about others. With one exception: Telemarketers. In my mind, I’ve labeled them all as THE WORST PEOPLE EVER. Every last one of them. Can you blame me? There are few things worse then being in the middle of a stressful situation at work, or having your hands full while you’re out at a grocery store, and picking up a call only to be harassed into upgrading your cell phone service, or renewing your Viagra subscription. (Yes, I am just as confused as you as to how I ended up on that call list!). Sometimes, the phone in my studio will get two or three of these calls a day, and it drives me mad.

Look, I realize telemarketers are just doing their job. It’s the corporation and the industry itself that I should despise, not the employees working for them. But I’m ashamed to admit I've found real relief in projecting my anger onto whoever is on the other end of the phone when I’m having a bad day. On more than one occasion, I’ve yelled at an anonymous telemarketer before bashing the phone several times into the receiver.

This phone rage also boils up when I’m talking to customer service people who work for corporations like Time Warner or rip-off airlines who want to charge you more than your ticket price to change the flight. Maybe I'm crazy but this bureaucracy crap drives me absolutely insane and turns me into a monster. On top of these calls wasting my time, the whole situation also makes me feel guilty for acting like a cold awful person when I get angry and yell or hang up on them.

In terms of telemarketers, in my defense, how can one win with them? Simply hanging up doesn’t work, they just put you on a “no answer” list and call the next day. Putting your name on those “do not call” lists doesn’t work either; I’ve become convinced those lists are actually created by telemarketers fishing for new people to call. I’ve also tried reasoning with them and begging them to take me off their list, however that’s usually a painful process as they ask “why” and want to “genuinely know what they can do to make their product / service better.”

But what if I had to do their jobs for a day? How would it feel to be on the other end of the phone? Would I gain a bit more empathy for them? I decided that it wouldn’t be enough to try to just make calls to sell a product, so to up the stakes a bit, I decided to make calls for donations to a cause I really care about: The American Heart Foundation. My grandfather died eight years ago from heart failure. He was one of the biggest inspirations to me growing up,  and a solid rock during many hard times in my life. He had heart problems for decades and his dying wish was for people to donate to the foundation instead of buying flowers at his funeral, so I’ve made an effort to donate ever since.

Calling For a Cause I Believe In

I switched roles with the people who annoy me the most: telemarketers.

Tim and I spent an entire day going through our own contact lists, calling all our acquaintances to try to raise awareness and point them to the website to gather donations for the cause. We split up the numbers so I called all Tim’s relatives, friends, and coworkers and Tim called all of mine; that way, they wouldn’t recognize our voices. We also called from an unknown number, so they wouldn’t know who was calling.

It was crazy to see some of our sweet and shy friends turn into MONSTERS on the phone when they thought we were telemarketers. The fail rate on calls was even worse than expected: 99% of everyone we called hung up on us or screamed at us instantly. The only person on the list who listened to us and was kind was a guy I once dated a few years ago, who I broke up with via text. Which only made me feel like more of an asshole.

Recent comments

Vanessa Smith
Mar 20, 2016 20:59

I don't know about other phones, but if your have an iPhone, there is a "block this number/contact" feature, so even if the evil telemarketers from that number keep calling, they'll never go through.

Andrea Strom
Feb 18, 2016 13:10

This video was one of my favorites from this project! Pretty funny.

At the end of the most unsuccessful five hours of my life, I went online and donated to the cause myself because I couldn’t take any more rejections. It was a nice reminder that it's not an easy or rewarding job to be a telemarketer. 

Who knows what is going on in anyone's lives at one moment? And, contributing to whatever negativity they have in their life only perpetuates it. These telemarketers or customer service people might also hate the job and whatever they’re being paid to sell you, too. They might not even believe in the sales pitch they’re giving. However, maybe this job is the only option they have to feed their kids. Or maybe their dad died yesterday. Or maybe they're sad and lonely. And on top of that all they deal with is getting a bunch of people yelling at them all day.

Thinking about all this made me think about how too often I’m quick to backlash or judge people who are rude, unkind, or who bother me. It’s not just customer service or telemarketers: the people who cut me in line, or when someone upstreams me and steals my cab, or bumps into me when they are rushing. In the moment I tend to take these actions as if they’re direct insults to me and quickly label those people as assholes. However I know its such a ridiculous way to feel, a result of being clouded by my own ego. It's usually not ever about me. When someone treats me like shit, it's probably because they feel like shit themselves. 

I can't say I love telemarketers or customer service people now, but I’ll certainly try to be more mindful next time I'm on a call to be kinder, even if it is impossibly frustrating.

And by the way, for anyone interested in how to remove yourself completely from call lists, someone recently sent me this link.

Part 2: Make Your Own Step

We'd love for you to participate in this 12-step journey with us. Step three is all about switching jobs with a person you normally dislike or judge to gain empathy for them. Comment below or tag #12kindsofkindness on social media and let us know your stories. We'd love to hear them!

Feel free to use the artwork / quotes above to share your story on social, you can download them all on the 12 Kinds of Kindness Tumblr.

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