Just a Receptionist: Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

Last week, I picked up the phone at the vet clinic where I work. The woman on the other end was a potential new client, asking a myriad of questions in a rude and demeaning tone. I held my ground, opting to bat away her belittlement with kindness.

But then she followed up one of her questions with, “Oh well, you wouldn’t know. You’re just the receptionist.”

Time paused for the next half a second. I was, of course, incredulous that a human being would talk down to another human being, a stranger no less, through a speaker. But we are in the midst of a politically and emotionally charged atmosphere. True colors are flying, and they’re not always the rainbow we want to look at.

I had three options for how to respond here:

  1. Go off on a rant
  2. Correct the woman by listing off my credentials and actual job title
  3. Laugh in her face

I opted for #3. Here’s why:

1. Going off on a rant doesn’t solve anything, especially over the phone, and especially when the listener is not invested in the cause. Emotions are often irrational, and they bring a charge to a conversation that quickly crosses the line from discussion into argument.

2. I stoop down to her level if I play the high and mighty card. And, for the record, no one is ever “just a receptionist.” I have known many receptionists in my life—most of them women. Off the clock by night, they are mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, chefs, caretakers, volunteers, dreamers, travelers. On the clock by day, while listening to an earful from people on the other end of the line, they are therapists, organizers, greeters and problem-solvers. And they do this all while often being harassed, overworked and grossly underpaid.

3. Laughter is the best medicine. I laughed three times over her continued barrage of insults, and then calmly directed her elsewhere, saying our clinic would not be a good fit for her.

While I believe this was the appropriate response, I will say I am terrible at standing up for myself. I will be the first to have the back of a stranger, but the last to correct someone for walking all over me. I’m working on that. But as little pacifist me hones my confrontational skills, I’m remembering to stay true to my values, not the least of which is love. I will fight for dignity and equality for all—yes, even those who put me down—but I will not enter into cyber-bullying, name-calling and haughtiness. I will fight for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, religious freedom, racial freedom, and basic human dignity. I will fight for change.

In my film premiere last night, my character—the wisest psychiatrist there ever was—says, “Change isn’t always progress, but it is evolution.”

When we vote, we vote for change. People don’t always agree with the progress of that change, but I believe politics are a lot like religion. At the heart of it all, don’t we just want good to come of it? The votes have been cast. I’m not unfriending people. I’m engaging them face-to-face to unite for the greater good. We need to live our lives reflecting the change we wish to see in the world.

I’m stepping down from my soap box now. There is a good and right part of history in the making. I’m giving you the microphone. Which side are you on?


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