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Rice or Chow Mein?

Posted by rjagilbert on August 23, 2014 at 4:40 PM

I pulled up to the drive-thru at the local Panda Express and spoke into the box. “I’d like an orange chicken bowl with fried rice,” I said, “And a second bowl of…”

 

“Do you want a panda bowl with rice?” the young woman interrupted from the speaker.

 

Confused by her question, I repeated my order. “Yes, a panda bowl with orange chicken.”

 

“Do you want a Panda bowl with rice or Chow Mein?” she repeated.

 

“Rice,” I said again. “And with Orange chicken as the entrée.”

 

“Okay,” she said. “So I have a panda bowl with rice and what would you like as the entrée?”

 

In the passenger seat, my wife muttered out loud, “Seriously?”

 

“I’m sorry,” the young woman stated, “I didn’t get that.”

 

I repeated the order one last time. “Yes. That is a panda bowl with a side of rice and orange chicken.”

 

I paused to see if she would repeat me, but she only asked, “Is that everything?”

 

“I’d also like a mushroom chicken bowl with Chow Mein,” I added.

 

She stopped me before I could finish. “Okay, so you want another panda bowl with rice or Chow Mein?”

 

Now I understand that there is a process to how Panda Express puts an order together. They start with a side of either fried rice or Chow Mein, then add the entrées to the top. But is it really so impossible to fathom an order through the drive thru that doesn’t follow that sequence? Especially since the menu in front of me listed my options as “Bowl of one entrée and one side”? Why can’t I list the entrée before the side?

 

When I was a young man, I worked drive thru just like her. I learned very quickly how to assemble an entire order in my mind before entering it in to the register. I know it is possible. Maybe the young woman was trying to train me (and all her drive-thru patrons) how to give her my order, but certainly she can’t expect to be successful in conforming the entire local population of potential customers to her method? Is it not easier to learn how to listen?

 

Many years ago, I called into a radio station with an opinion that was not perfectly aligned to either side of the two opposing views that were duking it out over the airwaves. When I started to share my two cents, the radio host cut me off and asked, “are you for or against?” That was it. He didn’t want to hear what I had to say. He only wanted to hear me say one of two things. With or against. Black or white. Rice or Chow Mein.

 

That, right there, is the crux of the bigger problem. How many of us say we listen, but we really don’t want to hear what the speaker is saying. How many of us are just listening for what we want to hear: rice or chow mein? Seahawks or Fourty-Niners? Democrat or Republican? For or against whatever the issue being discussed? I suppose it’s the same kind of frustration you might get from filling out an online survey that never gives you the opportunity to leave a comment. They just want you to select answer A, B, C, or D. The closest you get to sharing your own customer experience are the five bullets to select from between “Extremely satisfied” and “Extremely dissatisfied”. I have to ask: is the company that employs such a survey really listening to its customers?

 

When I write up an email or a blog, it is usually longer than just the few sentences it would take to express my alignment for or against an issue. Usually I have an explanation for why I think the way I do, and usually it is not just “Go Seahawks!” or “I want Chow Mein!” Often I anticipate an argument against my point, and so I take the time to provide additional evidence to strengthen my position. Imagine how annoyed I might get when my opinion is criticized as a “rant” because it is longer than the one sentence of “for” or “against” that the reader wants to read.

 

The first draft of this “rant” concluded with a saying I like to use to illustrate how people judge based on trivial variables such as the way a man dresses at a sporting event. Unfortunately, when my wife proofread the piece, she told me that I had lost the reader’s attention when I “changed the subject to football”. That, in a nutshell, explains the feeble-mindedness of mankind. If I take too long to illustrate the idea, if I use too many illustrations that don’t “match up” in the reader’s mind with the topic they think they are reading about, then I’ve lost them. If it’s not what they expect to read, if it doesn’t take them to the conclusion they are already looking for, then it is I who am guilty of “wandering” with my topic. How many times have I been told that (or made to feel like) my message is not important simply because it is not what the reader wants to focus on? Never is it the reader who is guilty of not listening to what I am trying to say. It is always me who is guilty of being “unimportant”.

 

The saying I used goes like this: If you don’t wear a cheese on your head when you walk into a Packers game, it doesn’t matter what you say or do, you are rooting for the other team. It doesn’t matter how loud you cheer or whether you painted your chest green and yellow beneath your neutral-colored sweater. You have already been judged, and you are “against”. That’s how it is, though. People don’t really want to gather information. They don’t want to have to pay attention. They don’t want to do the leg-work through too many unfamiliar paragraphs. They already know what they are looking for, and if they don’t get it—and fast—then nothing else matters.

 

I can write my sentences short. I can edit it down to a few paragraphs. I can say it again and again with a thousand different illustrations, always trying to get it just right so that the reader can understand the message I am trying to convey. Is it really fair to say that I am not communicating clearly when the reader gets the wrong idea by looking for the “for” or “against” argument that is not there? It is not me who is speaking ill or poorly. It is the reader.

 

They’re not really listening.

 

They’re not really looking for truth.

 

They might as well just be asking for “Rice or Chow Mein.”

 

Categories: Politics, Religion, and Physics, Communion Meditations

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