and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
June #3

Life lesson: It pays to complain
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, June 19, 2008

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

George Bernard Shaw

On my recent train ride across America, I was seated from Boston to Albany with someone who knew me only from my political activism and writing.

We ate together in the train dining room, and after seeing me interact with Amtrak employees, he said with surprise: "You're actually a nice person!"

Gee, did he really think that those of us who battle politicians are confrontational, sarcastic and obnoxious with ordinary human beings, too? I take pride in being combative with those who assault my liberties and paycheck. Someone has to do it, and it's easier for me because I have no psychological need to be perceived as agreeable especially if it requires that I be an enabler or a victim of abusive government.

But with the rest of the world, friends sometimes tell me I'm TOO accommodating, excusing some behavior and putting up with too many inconveniences. Well, here is the lesson I learned last month.

For the first time in my life, I was traveling first class not counting the time I got upgraded on a flight to Stockholm which on a train means paying for a sleeper car rather than sitting up for three days. So there I was in the "Ambassador Lounge" in Chicago for a four-hour layover. After touring the railroad station, I was leaning against a wall because there wasn't enough seating for all the first-class passengers who were traveling this Memorial Day weekend.

A youngish woman also had no seat, but she wasn't leaning against any wall. As her male travel companion hogged one of the lounge's computers, she paced the floor, complaining to the Amtrak employees about having to stand. Other leaners and I watched in fascination as the complainer became more agitated and the employees more defensive. Eventually, another woman joined her in her campaign for accommodation. Some of us were mildly appalled by their behavior.

Until ... two Amtrak employees appeared with stacked plastic chairs from somewhere, which they distributed around the lounge. I happily sat on one, grateful that somebody had acquired it for me while demanding one for herself. And then I remembered the George Bernard Shaw quote above about the unreasonable man.

I made a resolution: No more Ms. Nice Guy. And I've been practicing.

When my sleeping car was without water for the second night, I complained.

Last week, when I spent an hour in a doctor's waiting room where the air conditioning was set at Arctic Night, I put up with it for 20 minutes, then went to my car, returning wrapped in a blanket like Chief Thunderface. But my cold was worse the next day, and I realized I should have complained immediately for the others in the room, as well as myself.

My partner, Chip Ford, has never been one to suffer in silence. His latest revolt came as his fifth sailboat summer began without his being assigned a dinghy ring at the Village Street dock. For years, many rings, assigned to someone at some point in the past, have sat unused all season; while Chip and others have had no place to keep their dinghy on the water and thus must pay the launch service for each round-trip to their boats.

Last week, Chip made a computer chart showing all 76 spaces, two-thirds of them presently unused, and took it to the harbormaster, asking what happened to the new "use it or lose it" regulation. He was told it's still too early in the season to tell who will not show up.

Last year, the spaces remained empty until fall; this year there is a plan, he was told, to reach those who are not using their rings and give their spaces to the people who have been on the waiting list for a long time.

Chip may not be one of the lucky recipients this year, but his complaining may be of benefit to others, and eventually to himself.

Chip and I spent part of last weekend and Monday complaining to the editor of the Marblehead Reporter about its front-page story stating that a yes vote on the debt exclusion for Village School would pay 60 percent of the $21.8 million renovation, with the state picking up the remainder.

This was not true; as with all debt exclusions from Prop. 2, the voters agree to pay the full amount, whatever it turns out to be. The state has not yet determined what its contribution will be.

There was no way to reach all the Reporter's readers, but Chip and I at least got a correction on the paper's Web site on Election Day, Tuesday. Then we drove past the many "Vote Yes for the Schools" signs and voted no. (Marblehead voters approved two overrides Tuesday. One for $22 million in renovations to Village School, prevailed by a 2,464-to-1,213 vote; the other, for a $400,000 study of the future of the Glover School, passed 2,365 to 1,311 Ed.)

While unhappy about yet another tax hike imposed by "reasonable" Marblehead voters, we celebrated when we saw one little red sign on the way to the post office that said, simply, "NO. Enough."

Hurray: One other unreasonable voice for progress

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.