Monday, November 19, 2012

A right to refuse to cooperate?

There has been some conflict in recently times over how much people in society should have a right to refuse to cooperate with any health care or social service they disagree with.  For example whether insurance companies or employers can refuse to provide medical insurance for contraception or whether pharmacists can refuse to dispense the "morning after pill."  In a perfect world everyone would have so many options for their employment, doctors, and pharmacies that it would be easy to only form relationships with people you already agree with.  But its not a perfect world.  Sometimes because of work constraints there many only be one or two options in insurance companies you can deal with, only so many employers you can work for, and pharmacies you can visit.  So a right to refuse to cooperate can easily translate into a right to make it nearly impossible for someone else to receive what they believe is desirable for themselves.  For example, while a pharmacist who believes the morning after bill is infanticide might feel very uncomfortable or conflicted about dispensing it, a rape victim may only have a short period of time to find someone who will give it to them before the drugs effectiveness starts to fail.

So where does my perspective fall on all of this?  Its hard to talk about this much in detail because at my job its considered that they can fire you if you mention online all the details of your employment.  But lets just say I provide customer service and technical support for a company that is a household name, someplace that normal everyday people do business with because they have to in order to function in our modern society.  And occasionally my job involves helping people purchase or troubleshoot their ability to access pornography.

First off some might question whether this is awkward for me.  And the answer is it can be at many levels.  Including:
  • It can be heartbreaking to take a call for a mother or a wife who is desperately trying to find out if their spouse is secretly using porn when we were the company that is selling the stuff to their son or husband.  
  • Its a fine line to walk when they are certain their family members couldn't possibly have betrayed them that way and I have to break it to them that even if I don't know who was at the controls we have proof that it was ordered and I can't credit back the hundreds of dollars that were ran up.
  • Occasionally customers ask that I give recommendations on which porn they might enjoy or if I have any suggestions on what they should purchase.
  • I've had to explain to people that just because I'm here to help doesn't mean that I can help them figure out which titles will include lesbian vs heterosexual sex acts or possibly be produced by one porn company compared to another.  Other than reading through large numbers of titles (which is time prohibitive) and making educated guesses, I honestly don't even have that sort of information most of the time.
  • I even had an illiterate man call in once who explained that because he could not read he needed me to read him all the porn titles I had one by one until he found one that he liked so that I could place his order for him.
  • I seem to recall once even having a customer ask me something along the lines of whether we had any sex videos involving Asians and then proceed to ask me if I was Asian.  Just because I'm tolerating talking to you about your pornographic preferences doesn't mean I moonlight as a professional porn actor, thanks for asking.  Lets not even get into how they misjudged my accent and possibly my gender (somehow a male tenor voice comes across the phone call sounding like as female a good part of the time no matter how many times I tell them my name).
There are also some ways that this is not uncomfortable which might not occur to people imagining this situation for the first time, so I'll list those as well.
  • I am almost never exposed to the actual content other than in the title of the item in question.
  • Most customers are willing to make their purchase and move on without expecting me to have an extended conversation with them about it (couldn't say if my female coworkers have the same experience).
  • Many callers express that they are perfectly ok with their adult sons visiting them ordering this stuff as long as the son coughs up a contribution to the bill to make up for it.
  • Very few of my customer interactions center around this
  • Most people are o.k. with me not reading every porn title on their bill to them.  They don't mind just me mentioning what kind of movie it is if the title didn't make it obvious enough.
  • Most people self service their own purchases and often only need me to troubleshoot their ability to complete such purchases.
So how do I handle it?  Mostly by just doing whatever the customers ask me to do and doing it promptly and with courtesy.  When customers call for customer service they want a representative of a company to answer the phone, not a representative of a specific church or belief system.  And the company who pays my bills expects me to represent them, not my God, my priesthood leaders, or my own personal tastes or preferences.  Being a representative of the company and not myself actually answers most of the questions involved in handling the issues I described above.  It doesn't matter if I'm helping a customer watch Finding Nemo or the latest X rated video claiming to show teenagers doing who knows what, there are certain policies and expectations involved.  Since I represent the company and not myself I'm not obligated to express any opinion good or bad on the shows they ask about.  Since the security rules for accessing accounts controls whether the wife can find out I don't have to make a judgement call on which spouse I'll hold allegiance to.  Since the company only provides a bare minimum of information about the different shows and with almost no useful ability to sort them by anything beyond what is strictly needed to place an order (title, price, where to find it), I can reasonably refuse to assist people in finding the show that fits their fetish best.  Truthfully, trying to assist people any further would involve unauthorized internet browsing to porn provider websites that would quickly get me fired.  I'm just as prepared to assist a family in setting up parental controls as to help someone find out why an error message is showing on the screen instead of their favorite porn show.

So what do I think about a purported right to refuse to cooperate?  I don't think it would make my job any easier.  Even if it was technically legal for me to refuse to help people watch porn or R rated movies that I thought were too risque, I'd have to deal with a lot of angry customers whose lives would be made more difficult by having to call in that many more times just to get a customer service representative who would offer service instead of a sermon.  Can you imagine having to call through an automated system that asked you "to ensure the fewest transfers as possible, please take this survey so we can match your customer service need to an agent who is ideologically affiliated with you"?  Logistically it would blow up so fast that I probably wouldn't even be able to get the job unless I was willing to sign a document agreeing to service anyone no matter what they needed, just like many employers won't hire employees who refuse to work on Sundays.

Many might argue that medical professionals are more morally culpable for their involvement with a patients body than I am involved with what my customers do in their spare time.  And perhaps that isn't unfair in some cases, but that is why doctors and professionals are expected to select services they are willing to perform.  You can't be a pharmacist without the possibility of dispensing many different drugs.  A OB/GYN occasionally might have to perform an emergency abortion to save the life of the mother but normally has the option to avoid specializing in abortion procedures.  An insurance company can hardly expect to be able to only service people whose ideals match their CEO (anybody want an insurance company executive who belongs to Scientology or Seventh Day Adventist dictating what gets covered?).  And while employers might offer health insurance subsidization to attract employees, they shouldn't expect to be able to exercise financial leverage over their employees religious or medical choices.  As I said earlier, in a perfect world everything would be so flexible that you could immediately be perfectly served only by people who agreed with you.  That kind of perfection doesn't exist.  We live in a world where people are free to make up their own minds and part of dealing with that is not always agreeing.  Sure there is room for compromise and flexibility in how we all live together, but not much absolutism.

I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. where he said, “Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”  When I go to a hospital I shouldn't have to worry if the nurse is worried about being fired if she puts my wife's life ahead of a pregnancy.  When I go to the pharmacy I should expect the pharmacist to represent that role, not his opinions about whether birth control is against the will of God.  If I have to constantly worry about which service provider might have which opinions so that I can be free to exercise my privilege to live as I choose in a free land, I'm not free, and the service providers aren't doing their job well.  Meantime, I'll keep processing orders for my customers porn with a polite smile on my face.

No comments: