It was my second real job when my boss made the comment in his good-bye remarks when I was moving on to take a new job, “Joe Howell has the greatest sense of moral outrage and self righteous indignation of anyone I have ever known.”
That may be true, but my defense is that you have to fight injustice at all times and in all places, whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. Of course, there are different levels to fight these battles, and the ones I have been most successful with have been on the personal level. If you get dissed or screwed by the more powerful, you fight back. This is especially important when you are dealing with the government or major corporations. Most innocent victims surrender, concluding that they don’t stand a chance. This actually is not the case. You just need to know how to take on the bureaucracy.
I learned my first lesson when Embry and I were living in New York, and the street-wise, Episcopal priest whose inner city church we were attending announced that his wife had figured out how to get any problem solved involving the government of New York City. “All you have to do,” he said. “Is to ask a couple of questions, first, what is your employment ID number and, second, what is the name and telephone number of your immediate supervisor. It rarely fails. You immediately get what you want or are transferred up the chain of command. More often than you would think, you end up speaking eventually to the head of the whole department.” Rumors in those days were that if you were persistent, you could end up speaking to the Mayor himself.
I have found this approach to be work in almost every situation.
The second tool at your disposal is “The letter.” A good letter can go a long way. The ones that have worked best for me are slightly tongue-in-cheek, with a touch of hyperbole. For example, years ago when Federal Express failed to deliver my handouts to a major conference, I was left stranded with no PowerPoint slides and nothing to hand out. When I complained using all the outrage tools at my disposal, I was told over the phone by the supervisor of a supervisor of a supervisor, tough luck, that there was nothing the company could do given the timing and furthermore that only a handful of the several million FedEx packages delivered each day get lost. It was too bad that mine was one of them. So get over it.
I managed to get through my presentation ok , but still. This injustice had to be addressed.
I immediately sent a registered mail, overnight (NOT by Federal Express) personal letter to the president and CEO of Federal Express, describing in great detail the ordeal and my extreme suffering and announcing I was suing the company for the following amounts: $38.25 for typing and reproduction, $45.75 for the FedEx fee, and $27 million for irreparable pain and suffering. The next day I received a FedEx package with two dozen red roses, a fruit and cheese basket, and a hand written note from the president (actually probably from his assistant) apologizing and begging for my forgiveness. Score one for the underdog.
I had an even worse experience with JPMorgan/Chase after my wallet and credit cards were stolen in Madrid during our trip around the world. Chase never sent me a new credit card, continued to charge me annual fees, and then despite my protests had my credit score lowered for not paying the annual fee and the interest on the fee.
I seemed to have met my match at Chase. I explained to one supervisor after another as I worked my way up the food chain that my credit had been ruined, and that I was never supplied a new credit card after mine was stolen. They explained to me that they could not give me a new card because my old card was “on hold,” but it could not be released until I paid all the fees and penalties. Plus because my credit score was now so low, they could not offer me a new card even if I paid up. I used every argument I had to no avail. I even told the last person I talked to that I was despondent and contemplating suicide. (Actually I realized I had gone too far when she immediately gave me the suicide crisis number and hung up. She gave it to me so quickly I figured she must get several suicide threats a day.) No one would give me any contact information on Jamie Dimon, the Chase CEO. Most just laughed and hung up. This went on for months. I mean, these guys (actually all women) were tough. I was ready to admit defeat.
Then my luck changed. At a cocktail party I was holding forth about this hideous ordeal and how Chase was destroying my life and how my proven methods weren’t working when a stranger came up to me saying that she had overheard my ranting and that she had a friend who actually knew Jamie Dimon, and she would get me his personal, home address. Two days later, bingo, there it was in an email! My special delivery, outrage letter followed, describing permanent psychological damage and hinting at lawsuits totaling hundreds of millions that would surely bring the company to its knees. Two days after that I received a new card, all past fees and interest forgiven, and future annual fees waived. No personal apologies from the Big Guy, but, hey, a victory nonetheless.
This year I have continued my quest for personal justice at all times and at all places. The first was my knee replacement. Kaiser Permanente, my health care provider, typically does not like to do any procedure that costs them money since it is an HMO, and any operation is on their nickel. If somebody at Kaiser ever tells you that you need an operation, head for the operating room immediately. Believe me, you need it. For several years I had suffered from a worn-out knee but was quietly ignored by the orthopedic surgeon specializing in knee replacements. “Yes,” he would say, “the cartilage is gone, but other people are in worse shape than you are. Give it another year or so.”
After a couple of these encounters, I wrote the following email to the surgeon:
“Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following two statements: one, I need a knee replacement. Two, Kaiser will not give me one.”
About 10 minutes later I got a return email from the doctor saying. “Come in tomorrow morning and get your knee replaced.”
The operation actually occurred about a month later, and I am happy to report was successful. I am back to walking three or four miles several times a week. Score another victory.
My latest personal injustice ordeal involved a refund on small, propane, outboard motor which I purchased from Best Marine (not its real name) in August. The motor exploded when I was trying to screw in the propane tank and fuel spewed out of the motor. It was not a huge explosion, but someone could have been hurt. The brand new motor never even touched the water. I returned the motor to Best Marine the day after Labor Day and demanded that they fix it immediately since I had several cruises scheduled for the fall and needed the motor for the dinghy. I had even paid a premium to Best Marine, a massive company with a nation-wide presence, to provide for them to coordinate all motor repairs in an “expeditious manner.” When two months later the motor was still not repaired, I told them I wanted my money back. I had no use for a motor that explodes and that takes months to repair. I was told by the store manager that it was not possible under any circumstances to return a motor. The reason he gave had to do with some contract technicality between Best Marine and the motor manufacturer.
We talked a couple of times after that leading to no resolution. He stated apologetically but firmly, “Mr. Howell, there is no way we can give you a refund. I have talked to my supervisors and it simply can’t happen because of legal reasons. This decision is final.” I gave my outrage act a second shot (“This is unbelievable,how could you…”) with no success.
On the next call, I went to Plan B, my backup approach, which went something like this: “Randy (not his real name), you seem like a nice person and want to do the right thing, so here is the way that it is going to work going forward. Right now we are at level one and level one is not going in the right direction, so we are moving to level two. In order to facilitate level two, you will provide me with all contact information for your supervisor and his or her supervisor and the CEO of the company, including his or her home address and telephone number. I do not believe you want to know what level three involves, but I will refer to it simply as the nuclear option. I will give you one week to report back as to progress.”
He reported back this past Wednesday that I would receive a full refund.
Works every time. Well, almost.
So, my friends, when a personal injustice occurs, you do not have to surrender. Hold your ground and do not fear using your best outrage act, but always do it with a smile and a twinkle in your eye and hold no personal grudges. But you have to be prepared to go to the nuclear option if you have to, but really, you don’t want to know what that is.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Editor-in-Chief, Faux News