Last month, on my birthday, I made a trip to the local office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It was the day that my driver’s license was set to expire, so I had to get it renewed. After waiting in line for a while, I got my picture taken, and then I had to stand in line again to wait for a clerk at the counter to renew my license. When it was my turn at the counter, I answered several questions to verify the information they had in their system.
At one point, the woman behind the counter stopped asking questions and stared at the computer monitor. She looked up at me and said, “Have you ever lived in Nebraska?” I reactively said, “What did you say?” She repeated the question and I answered no. Then she asked if I had ever been to Nebraska. After I answered no, she said, “Have you ever driven through Nebraska?” Again, my answer was no, and then I asked, “Why, what’s going on?”
She told me that the State of Nebraska had put a lock on my driver’s license and that she could not renew my license. She said she was going to write down the phone number for the Department of Motor Vehicles for the State of Nebraska, and I needed to call them and request a release letter. She told me that her office would be able to renew my driver’s license when I gave them the release letter.
I asked her the obvious question: “Why did the state of Nebraska put a lock on my license?” She said that she did not know because that information was not available to her. I followed up with the next obvious question: “Can’t you just call them and get it cleared up while I wait?” She told me she was not allowed to do that and that I would have to make the phone call to the State of Nebraska to get it taken care of.
She handed the sheet of paper with the telephone number on it to me and repeated what she had previously told me about the necessity of obtaining a release letter. Before turning away from the counter, I said, “My driver’s license expires today. What can I do to get an extension of the expiration date, so I will have time to get the release letter?” She told me that because of the COVID pandemic, the State of Illinois had extended the expiration date on driver’s licenses until August 1, 2021. I thanked her for helping me and headed back to my office.
When I returned to my office, I went on the internet and confirmed that the State of Illinois had extended the expiration date on driver’s licenses until August 1, 2021. I then called the Department of Motor Vehicles for the State of Nebraska. After holding for an unreasonable length of time, I explained my situation to the person who answered the phone. She transferred me to a different department and I explained my situation to the next woman I talked to. She asked me for my name, home address, date of birth, social security number, and whether I had ever lived in or driven through Nebraska.
After I answered her questions, she told me that there was a Harry Williams in Nebraska who was born on the same day and year that I was born. It wasn’t until she asked me for my middle initial that she was able to tell me that the Harry Williams who lived in Nebraska had a different middle initial than mine.
I asked her what he had done to prompt their office to put a hold on his license. She told me that she could not share that information with me. As any good lawyer would do, I asked her the same question again, but in a different way. She again told me that she was not allowed to share the information with me. I rephrased the question and asked it a third time. She responded to my third attempt with her own question: “Have you ever been picked up in Nebraska for driving while under the influence of alcohol?”
Since I had already told her that I had never driven through Nebraska, I immediately realized that she asked the question to telegraph to me that the Harry Williams who lives in Nebraska was pulled over for drunk driving. If that’s actually what happened, he probably did not show up for court, failed to pay his fine, or violated another requirement of the court order, which resulted in the revocation of his license.
I asked the woman what I needed to do to get a release letter. She told me that I needed to mail a letter to their office with my name, home address, date of birth, and social security number, and that I also needed to pay a processing fee of three dollars, which could be paid by check or cash. In response to her instructions, I said, “Are you telling me that the only way I can get a release letter is to send my request letter and fee by U.S. Mail, and after you process my request, you will send a release letter back to me by U.S. Mail?”
She confirmed that what I repeated to her was correct. “Is there any way I can get this done by email or by going to a secure website to enter the information and pay the fee?” She replied, “No, I’m sorry, but that’s the only way we have for you to obtain the release letter.” I asked her if I could send the letter and fee by FedEx and include a prepaid, return FedEx envelope, so they could send the release letter to me by FedEx. She said yes and confirmed that I had the correct street address for their office.
I thanked her for her help, hung up the phone, and prepared the letter, fee check, and FedEx envelopes. I dropped the envelope in a FedEx Dropbox that is located across the street from my office, and I received the release letter a week later. My concern was that if I were to be pulled over by a police officer for some reason, he would run a check on my license and then walk over to the window of my car and say, “Would you please step out of your vehicle?” If that were to happen, it would probably go downhill from there because he probably wouldn’t believe my “story.”
Anyway, during the evening of the day that all this happened, I received a phone call from a good friend of mine — I’ll call him “Joe” — who I’ve known for most of my life. Joe is a very smart, successful business executive who knows how to get his way. I told him about my experience with the DMV and the State of Nebraska, and the first thing he said was, “What did you say to the woman in Nebraska after she told you that you had to mail a letter and pay a fee for a problem that they had created?” I told him that I thanked her for helping me.
Joe reacted the way I expected him to react. He became animated and said,
Man, I would have let her have it. I would have said, “What do you mean I have to write a letter and send a fee, and then wait for you to process my request and send a letter back to me. I didn’t do anything to create this problem. You’re the one who put a lock on my license. You need to take care of this right now while I’m on the phone with you.”
When Joe stopped to take a breath, I said, “She didn’t have the authority to handle the matter over the phone. She was just following the guidelines that had been set for her by the people who are in charge of her department.” Joe’s reaction to my comment was quick and firm: “If she didn’t have the authority to handle the problem right then and there, she needed to go find somebody who did have the authority.”
I told Joe that there was a time in my life that I responded to these types of situations the same way he said he would have responded, but at one point, I made a conscious decision that I was no longer going to treat people who had no authority to make decisions that way. I then said,
It would not have done me any good to insist that the problem had to be resolved while we were on the phone. When I have situations where I’m dealing with a secretary, assistant, or clerical person, I try to be as kind as possible to them. There was nothing that the woman I talked to could have done for me other than to tell me what the process was for getting the release letter. She probably deals with angry people all day long, and it would not be fair for me to add one more angry person to her list. The only reason for someone like me to bully a person in her position would be for my own personal satisfaction. Why would I want to mistreat her and ruin her day when it wouldn’t ultimately do me any good? I would rather end the call by saying something that would make her feel good about herself with the knowledge that I was grateful for her assistance, instead of leaving her in tears with the feeling that she hated me and her job.
After I gave Joe my little speech, I told him that I wouldn’t want the woman’s job and he wouldn’t want it either. I also told him that she probably had more work than she could handle and the last thing she needed was to listen to some mean-spirited man take pleasure in chewing her up and spitting her out. To my surprise, Joe said, “Yeah, I guess you’re probably right, but I would still be ticked off if I had to write a letter and send money to them before they would be willing to correct a mistake that was their fault in the first place.”
What I said to Joe does not apply to every situation. There are instances, especially in my business, when I have to aggressively go after someone. There are people out there who have no problem lying, cheating, and sabotaging other people to get what they want. I have no problem doing whatever is legally and morally necessary to put a stop to that type of behavior.
But for most of the people I interact with, I do my best to be as kind and as charitable as possible. When I feel like ripping into someone who is not in a position to resolve my complaint, I sometimes have to remind myself that I am in a much better position — financially, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually — than they may be in. I try my best to keep in mind that God has given me numerous gifts that other people do not have. This mindset helps me to set aside whatever frustration and anger I may have at the moment, so I can make a genuine effort to make the person I’m interacting with feel good about themselves and their experience with me.
This is how Jesus treated every person he came into contact with who was not in a position of authority — with kindness and charity.