My Job Makes Me Unpopular

April 1st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Sir, I’m reading one of your books, “Business Secrets from the Bible.” You talk about making your customers happy.

The nature of my work now is to catch energy theft and fine/sanction them and at the end some are not happy with me.

I’m confused, please still explain more for me.

Thank you

Jide

Dear Jide,

In the spirit of full disclosure, we must tell you that we get pretty annoyed at letters that we regularly receive from our energy provider telling us that we use more energy than our neighbors.  The tone of voice they use suggests that they caught us stealing.  As if morality were about how little energy you use.  Absurd!   If they were to send a person to our house to fine us, we would not be pleased. But we do know that this is not what your job is.  You are employed to find those who are actually stealing electricity with surreptitious and unofficial wiring to the grid.

I am sure that many of the energy thieves whom you apprehend are, as you say, not happy with you.  A mistake you are making is thinking that those people are your customers.  They are not.  Your customer is your employer.  Allow us to explain.

For many very important reasons, for maximum success, we encourage almost everyone to think of themselves as being in business for themselves.  Consider a bus driver for example. He should stop thinking of himself as an employee of the bus company. Instead, he should view himself as an independent business professional in the transport sector. As of now, he has only one customer or client, namely the bus company who purchases his services. Naturally, there is nothing stopping him from finding other customers, for instance, a weekend job driving an Uber or Lyft car.  In your case, your customer is the energy company that employs you to locate theft.  And if you do your job effectively, your customer will probably be very happy with your performance. 

Think of someone working in a coffee shop.  She must think of herself as being in business for herself because nobody cares about her success as much as she does, so she must take charge rather than see herself as a passive employee.  Her customer is the coffee shop chain that employs her.  The people who come into the shop to buy coffee are the customers of the coffee shop company.  They are not her customers, they are her job.  In most circumstances, if she makes their customers happy, she will also be making her customer happy.

Yours is a slightly more complicated situation.  In your case, making your employer happy, which is to say making your customer happy, probably means making your employer’s customers unhappy. But the majority of the miscreants you bust are probably not actual customers of your employer.  They are trying to obtain the services that your employer provides without paying for them.

Your situation bears certain resemblances to a traffic policeman.   When we are stopped for speeding, we are not happy about paying a fine and suffering any other consequences.  However, we do appreciate the police and acknowledge that they caught us doing something that is against the interests of a safely functioning society. If we don’t like it we might want to lobby our local government to raise the speed limit on a certain stretch of road.  But until it is raised we recognize that the police who stop us are doing the right thing and we are grateful to those who join the force.

Contrast this with another scenario. Certain cities in the United States employ people to clandestinely sort through citizens’ garbage cans to make sure they are correctly separating recycled material. The homeowner will be fined if the inspector discovers, let’s say, a glass bottle in the regular trash. It is public knowledge that in many of those cities, the garbage and recycle containers are all mixed together and dumped into the same landfill as there is no economically viable method for dealing with the recyclables. There is no societal good being served by that inspection or that fine. The jobs are a waste of taxpayer money and a government overreach.

What would we say to a person who asked us if he should accept such a position? On one hand, supporting oneself is an important and worthy ambition. On the other hand, taking this job—which will be filled by someone else if he turns it down—means advancing bad policy, even if it is not in an area that clearly juts into a moral and ethical dilemma as one might have, for example, if offered a job in an abortion clinic. We would probably urge our job-seeker to make every effort to look for a job that will fill him with pride and the knowledge that he is helping others rather than taking advantage of them.

Sadly, in many countries, energy theft is a serious problem that impedes progress and ultimately harms everyone.  For this reason, we feel that though your job may not make you the most popular man in the neighborhood,  in the larger picture, what you do helps your fellow citizens. 

Here’s the line of inquiry that you should be exploring as CEO of your business which is providing energy theft abatement services to your customers of which, right now, you only have one.  Perhaps you can sell your employer/customer on the idea of not only catching the bad actors in the city but also rewarding and educating the good guys.  In other words, how about if you not only detected energy bandits but also distributed pamphlets to those paying their energy bills explaining how you are trying to lower their costs by catching the thieves whose activities raise everyone’s costs.  Perhaps you could meet with neighborhood groups for the same purpose.  Perhaps your employer would pay you more if you added public relations to your duties, thus bringing them additional value.

Because you are helping transform your neighborhood into a safer, more economically vibrant and better functioning place, you should feel good about doing your job even if miscreants get annoyed when you catch them. You can see things on a larger scale than the thief you are fining.

We hope this gives you some helpful guidance,

Electrifyingly,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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9 comments

Froylan Farias says:

“Electrifyingly” I love it. Thank you for sharing Rabbi and Susan Lapin.

Blessings,
Froylan “Tony” Farias
Houston, Texas

I’m not looking for a cause by question. What prompts this is your timeliness.
This afternoon I went to study outdoors in a park. This was to enjoy the sun while doing so.
A police officer rode up on a motor bike, telling me and others at near tables, that we needed to leave per law. We did all so. I asked why while gathering my pages,etc.
This need supposedly due to the virus danger.
The voice and demeanor of the officer was good.
Yet, no signs were posted indicating our error.
Should one have asked for proof first?

Randy W. says:

Interesting column. Also, this gentleman fails to recognize that as a legitimate customer, I will be happy with his success in his profession since it will affect what I have to pay. My rates will not increase over time (as much) because I will not be paying for a thief who steals the electricity. As the saying goes, “There is no free lunch” which means someone has to pay for the electricity.

James says:

It is sage advice to recommend that a person seek work that fills him with the knowledge that he is helping others rather than taking advantage of them. Our daughter was all fired up, inspired and ready to advance in the real estate profession. But one evening she returned, her confidence in that profession shaken beyond repair. She had been at a house for sale, training with one of her great mentors, with a prospective customer. She heard her mentor agent field a cell phone call from another ‘prospective buyer’ also interested in the property. When the customer departed, her mentor agent confessed that the call was bogus. It was from an associate in the real estate office who was feigning interest in the property in order to stimulate the customer’s competitive instinct and goad him into jumping at the sale. When my daughter balked at the dirty trick, her mentor merely shrugged, saying ‘Sorry, but it works.’ We tried to suggest that not all real estate professionals use shady, unethical tactics. But the incident destroyed her trust in her mentor and her faith in the profession. She always had a strong conscience. She abandoned that profession and opted instead for a medical service profession and she is very fulfilled today.

Jide says:

Thank you sir

I’m Grateful

Olumide says:

Thank you Rabbi, I am fast becoming an ardent follower. I work part time as a recycler and I am surprised at your stand on sorting materials which helps with recycling. I want some clarification from you sir; are you saying recycling is in no way contributing positively to the environment and the society at large?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

My dear Olumide–
Having a job that honorably and honestly serves your employer, your customers or your clients is really enough. We do not necessarily need jobs that also achieve lofty and more widespread ends such as “contributing positively to the environment and the society at large.” In fact, people who set out to change the world, save the planet, repair the environment scare me wide eyed and breathless. I recall the great C. S. Lewis writing, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” So be happy with your job.
That said, here in the United States many cities, including at times New York and Seattle, laboriously and expensively would collect separated trash imposing draconian penalties upon citizen who didn’t genuflect at the altar of recycling, but then unceremoniously dumped everything in the same garbage dump. You see, there often these days is no economically viable way of processing waste or recycling in a way that produces more than it costs. In fact many of these cities continue to operate recycling centers which are subsidized by the taxes of citizens who pay twice. Once to have their garbage and recycling picked up from their homes and businesses and again to keep the futile recycling center operating. That is unworthy.
As for you, be happy you have a job; do your best, start seeing yourself as ‘in business for yourself’ as we explained in our response to the question, and prosper and grow. Onwards and upwards,
Cordially
RDL

Olumide says:

I can now understand, you are very right, thank you so much.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

God bless you Olumide,
Cordially
RDL

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