Skepticism, Daily Affronts and Quality of Life

An elevator conversation struck up quite
spontaneously revealed one of the small, daily affronts that leads to skepticism
today, and contributes to a nagging pin prick in quality of

I struck up a conversation with a stranger in an elevator recently that turned out to be quite revealing about how skepticism is cultivated in our consumer society.

As it often does with me, our talk turned quickly to new technology and that led to inkjet printers for photography.

I mentioned that I had gotten a very nice printer for my daughter when I purchased some other camera gear and with rebates the printer was free. Rebate was a trigger word for him. He had bought an expensive lens with a generous rebate. But, as is often the case, when he sent in his rebate forms he received a return request for another form he hadn’t noted in the small print.

This led to a series of exchanges that were frustrating, time-consuming and ultimately futile. He didn’t get the rebate and it still stuck in his craw.

As we parted company he said of the rebate bait, “It’s cynical. They use them to attract you and make it nearly impossible to redeem. It’s cynical manipulation of customers and I don’t buy from companies that do rebates.”

He’s right. It is a cynical practice. It’s a way for companies to advertise deep discounts and at the same time make it so tedious and meticulous to get them that most purchasers don’t follow through.

This is one of the small affronts that we experience daily that undermine credibility and trust in corporations and other organizations. Mix these small daily experiences with those that stand out, such as the failure to deliver necessary services, or the requirement to pay extra fees to get services that should have been delivered anyway, and it’s easy to understand why study after study finds people growing more skeptical about once trusted organizations.

Add to this the more significant abuses of trust by corporate executives looting the til, clergy sexual abuse, journalistic ethical lapses and the affronts loom even larger.

In research just completed at UMCom we note a decided difference in attitudes of people age 40 and younger. They are less optimistic about their own futures and more skeptical of institutions than the older generation. They apparently don’t trust the promises, they want to see the evidence. They’ve seen enough to know that words without action are hollow.

If you make a claim, stand behind it. Be what you say you are. Do what you say you’ll do. This gets expressed as a desire for authenticity, and young people have a keen eye for authentic behavior.

Put in other language, they are looking at morality and seeking a consistent moral ethic. Without this, skepticism, fed by daily affronts, chips away at our quality of life.

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