In Praise of Patient People: Paperwork as a Spiritual Practice

In the process of transitioning from a full-time employed person to a self-employed writer and retired professor, I’ve had to interface with many institutions, and all of them have required paperwork and forms. This isn’t a 21st century phenomenon. There has been paperwork as long as there have been organizations and rules. 

What’s new, perhaps, is the expectation that it should be quick and easy now that it’s electronic. This isn’t always the case.

I’m impressed by the warm humanity people have shown me while slow computers did their things. I got to know them a little, learning that the woman who helped me at the Motor Vehicle Division is a fellow yoga practitioner and that the customer service person at the bank also moved here, like I did, after getting “caught in the vortex’ (the feeling you have to live in T or C after only being here a few hours).

The local enrollment counselor for getting ACA health insurance and the agent on the phone at the healthcare marketplace jointly spent almost two hours with me today resolving tangles in the system that had happened because—and it took some detective work to figure this out—someone who talked with me on the phone two weeks ago made a typo that jammed up my account. Human error. The kind I make every time I type. No one got angry or frustrated. We all kept our senses of humor. The enrollment counselor even helped me with simple things that could have been a hassle, such as the fact that I don’t have a scanner or a copier for submitting various documents and that cell phones don’t have free calls on 800 numbers when you need to make a two-hour phone call and don’t have a landline. The marketplace agent said she wasn’t ending the call with me until the problem was solved, and she didn’t.

People who are “just doing their jobs” are different from people who make their jobs into opportunities to practice kindness, friendliness and patience, opportunities to relate to the actual person they are working with, not just process papers and problems. I have nothing to complain about. I have my New Mexico license and registration; I have a local bank account; I have health insurance. And I have been treated with more than respect, treated with genuine human-to-human presence by everyone, including the helpful man two weeks ago who made the typo. Many factors made my application unusually complicated, and we accomplished important things before his finger made that one unfortunate keystroke.

I’ve read Lewis Richmond’s book Work as a Spiritual Practice so many times I gave it away when I cleaned out my college office. Every lesson in it came back to me today as these two persistent ladies hung in with me through what could have been tedious or maddening. I exited my immersion in bureaucracy energized and positive. It takes people who can turn their work into spiritual practice to have that effect. Thank you.

*****

Image of Files: “Paperwork” by Tom Ventura

Other images, Taos County ditch supervisor and Taos County surveyor, public domain

 

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