Wednesday, June 20, 2007


The old saying goes, "no good deed goes unpunished." This phrase has been on my mind today because one of my students e-mailed me and asked to "reschedule" her lesson today. The contract the referral agency makes with students clearly stipulates that same-day cancellation is a loss for the student. The teacher is not obliged to reschedule or offer a make-up lesson and will be paid for the hour unless there is some sort of urgent mitigating circumstance (such as a natural disaster).

Since this student has had a variety of health issues, particular related to her "waterworks", and I'm guessing her cancellation may have something to do with that, I agreed to let her reschedule for tomorrow rather than do a straight cancel. She e-mailed me back and said she wanted to come Friday evening but I have other students and can't accommodate her at the time she wants to come. She then replied to that message demanding to know all of the free time on my schedule from morning to evening tomorrow.

Perhaps my student is poor at writing her messages and came across more bluntly than she intended to. Perhaps she is grateful and too busy to take the time to say it. Or, perhaps she's just taking advantage of my willingness to cut her some slack. The end result is that I'm wasting my time playing e-mail tag with her and what's more exhausting my patience since I'm trying to do her a favor and it's just causing me more aggravation.

As is the case with most people, this isn't the first time this has happened to me and it won't be the last. In my former job, I constantly went above and beyond the call of duty rather than simply did as I was told. If I wasn't busy, I asked if there was anyone I could help with their work rather than sit in my cubicle and do whatever I wanted (which I could have done without censure). I also used my own laptop computers for about 10 years to do my job because the company whined about being too poor to afford another Mac. They bought one for my boss. They bought one for the Japanese women who worked with us but they never bought one for me.

As time went by, I used my own Zip drive for back-ups, my own scanner for scanning work, and even my own registered versions of Adobe software because the company pleaded poverty and I wanted to be helpful as well as allow work to proceed more smoothly and quickly. Needless to say, this was never appreciated nor recognized in any fashion and none of the dedication or skill I applied to my job was recognized in my annual raises though, at least, my gaijin boss told me he appreciated what I did even though the Japanese didn't.

Being a philosophical sort of person, I wonder why it is that this type of situation is common enough to have a well-known saying attached to it. Is it that we have to get spanked for our good intentions in order to encourage us to build our characters such that we continue to perform such deeds in spite of how they are responded to? Is it that we should learn to stand up for ourselves and not be taken advantage of since going above and beyond with many people often offers us that dubious pay-off? Is it so we learn to roll with the punches and not let the lack of gratitude or recognition weigh on our overactive philosophical minds? Or, as I'm sure many less pensive or spiritually-minded people think, "things happen" and there's no meaning whatsoever to it.

I've actually grown sufficiently past my Christian upbringing not to expect any sort of reward for doing or being "good". I'm old enough to know that the best people in the world often get squat in the way of tangible rewards in life and I don't believe in heaven so I don't think there's a reward in death either. However, it'd be nice if doing good things didn't actually result in more hassle or stress. If a good deed can't be rewarded, at the very least, it shouldn't be punished.


Roy said...

I suffer from this affliction as well .

Shari said...

I guess we all do to some extent because people are, by nature, pretty self-involved and will always take what they can get with little thought for the cost to the other person.

We're also probably all on the other side of this as well...that is, we punish someone trying to help us but, unless they make it clear how they feel, we never realize what we've done.

Anonymous said...

This post made me cry.


Shari said...

-K-: I'm sorry to hear that. It actually wasn't meant to be all that sad but just rather a bit of reflecting on life and how it seems to work at times.

Val Ann C said...

You have my sympathies. Even well-meaning people will convince themselves it's OK to take advantage of a gracious person who regularly accommodates special requests. Every time you accommodate them, you make it easier for them to ask again and again. I know this from my own experience.

You didn't ask for advice, but here is what I might do. (Of course, I have no idea how things work in Japan. I am in the US.)

Perhaps it is in your best interest to be accommodating. However, there may be polite ways to make it less comfortable for people to make those special requests.

1. Find a way to communicate begrudgment. Even a slight begrudgment in your tone will make some people reluctant to impose on you again.

2. State clearly to the person that they are making a special request. The person making the request is testing your boundaries. A simple statement will communicate what the normal boundary is. "Of course, we both understand this is a special request. I'm not always able to accommodate these requests, but I'll see what I can do."

3. If possible, make them wait for a reply. "I understand you are making a special request. I will need to take some time to examine my schedule. I can't guarantee I will find an opening. Can you call me this evening and I'll tell you if I have an opening."

4. When saying no, have a compelling reason. I will often use my husband as an excuse. "I really wish I could help you, but I promised my husband I would help him with his work." Then, of course, I will help my husband with his work.

Best regards.

Kin said...

Val Ann C is right!

I truly know how sad it is because i am suffering the same situation. My friend asked me to design a simple image for his homework. And since it is a easy work, I said that's free. After that, I was continuely be asked/ordered to design more stuffs with no pay. :(

Helen said...

I think that you may have hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that the student came across more bluntly than she meant. I think that she may have translated directly from Japanese to English and not used the social niceties that we would expect in the same situation. I've had this happen too.

One of my last experiences at Le Eikaiwa was with a private student whose contract was just finishing. He had one lesson left. He'd asked me to reschedule the class from Saturday to Thursday night as he was going to a concert with his family and couldn't come. Although Thursday was quite busy, I fitted him in.
Thursday night he didn't come. He didn't call. Nothing.
Friday, I got a call from my head office saying that the student couldn't make it, and would I mind rescheduling to Saturday again. I told them that I did mind, but if they really wanted me to teach the lesson I would. I said that I'd re-scheduled him at his request and he hadn't come. If he'd been thoughtful enough to call beforehand so I could have done other work I might have felt differently, but he didn't. For some reason, the head office didn't make me teach him! They told the student that he'd missed his class.

I was not greatly enamored of the student, but if he'd contacted me directly (instead of the head office) I might have felt a little different. A genuine apology to me might have worked wonders!

I was really surprised that they backed me up. Usually they didn't.

Shari said...

Val Ann C: I appreciate the advice and, if I were in the U.S., I'd have already followed it. I'm generally a pretty straightforward person with those who I think can handle it (and I tend to slowly extricate myself from those who can't). However, I am prone to letting myself be taken advantage of and it's something I have to work on.

Unfortunately, in Japan, and particularly in what could be considered a "business" situation, it's pretty difficult to be direct in any way as it's considered pretty rude and may put a student off sufficiently to have them decide to change to a different teacher. The best thing to do (and I will do it in the future) is to simply say I'm too busy to fit the student in this week and will just have to see her next week for her regular lesson. The student may know this is a lie but it falls within the boundaries of what is acceptable in this culture to communicate a lack of desire to accommodate the other person.

Also, there is some benefit to me in being flexible to some extent (and I wouldn't have made this post at all if the student simply had accepted a lesson a day later without all the screwing around by e-mail). If I'm rigid about it all the time, the student has an incentive to cancel a day ahead (or earlier) rather than take the risk of a same-day cancellation they have to pay for. Being flexible diminishes the possibility of more future early cancellations (and early cancellations mean I don't get paid).

Kin: Hi there and thanks for your comment. :-) Fortunately, I'm in a position to say "no" should I choose to though some of my students make it difficult for me, particularly the neediest of them. Generally speaking, I don't let my friends push me so far.

Helen: Thanks for the comment (it was very interesting). I must say I'm also surprised that your school backed you up since, generally speaking, they don't care much about the teachers. I think most students don't appreciate or respect their teachers schedules or time and see you essentially as a resource to be used. I think part of the reason for that is the commercialized aspect of language learning and the weak tools for quantifying how much one improves with a particular teacher. Also, since most Japanese people studying English are doing it for entertainment value, they often don't know the difference between a good teacher and a bad one except to the extent that one is friendly and another may be less friendly. If you don't accommodate them as much as they desire, they'll just switch to a more flexible gaijin clown who will roughly fit the bill just as well for their amusement purposes.

I know that sounds terribly cynical but I don't think it's inaccurate by and large.

Emsk said...

Hi Shari,

It's so hard to back off once you've offered to put yourself out!
The last time I remember doing this kind of thing was summer 2004 when I was staying with my artist friend on her Greek island and running her gallery (what a summer!). A woman came into the shop umming and ahhing about buying a 50 Euro painting (that's about $68). She couldn't make up her mind which one would look better on her wall on her yacht and spent about half an hour bending my ear about it. Eventually she chose one, but asked if she could change it if she didn't like it on the wall. Wanting to make a sale yet not wanting to engage in too much BS, I said alright as long as it was returned undamaged, plus I gave her 24 hours to exchange.

Byt this time the 'relationship' was straddling into a pseudo-friendship, and I was buying into it because it was a chance to practise my French. The woman told me which yacht was hers and asked me, as an artist myself, if I would pop in and give her my professional opinion!

If I'd had my speaking-my-own-language hat on I would have told her that she was the best judge as the buyer, but I found myself saying okay, justifying things with a "well, it's on my way to the gallery anyway - I could pop in before I got my coffee." All the while though there was the niggling feeling that this woman, for all her outward sunny behaviour, could've cared less about inviting me to her yacht as a potential friend. It was all about being run after.

Thankfully, I was clear enough to tell her that I'd pop in to say hello on my way to work, but it wouldn't be a long visit, and if she wanted to change the picture she'd still have to come back to the shop itself. And yes, I did pop by - I don't like to stand people up - but guess what? No one at home.

Maybe it wasn't her yacht after all, of course.