Fun with numbers at the job

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Working, as I do, at the circulation desk of a library, teaches some important life lessons. Similarly to working retail, or serving food, or running a cash register at a grocery. Any kind of job that faces a stream of interactions with strangers, I would think. One of those lessons is that some people are assholes.

But most people aren’t!

I would say, in nice round numbers, that about eighty-five percent of the people I interact with over the course of a week are perfectly pleasant people who cause no trouble or stress. People do what they need to do, and move on, without increasing anyone’s stress or misery. That’s not quite accurate—maybe it’s 75% who are like that, and another 10% who are actively delightful. I haven’t clocked it, mind you; I’m just giving my impression. That 75% of perfectly pleasant people make for entirely unmemorable transactions, and frankly almost none of the interactions with the delightful people are particularly memorable, either.

There are perhaps 5% who are assholes. Well, and I’m including a wide variety of unpleasant people in this category—the assholes, the jerks, the arrogant essohbees, the pompous asses, the superwhiners, the petty tyrants, the entitled pricks, the timesinks, the miseries, all of them—they all add up to around five percent. Again, I’m not clocking it or anything, but that’s my vague estimate.

And then there are 10% who handle stress poorly. These are the ones who are mostly just fine, but that depends on conditions. If things are going wrong, or they are feeling harried or broke or overworked, or even if they are sick or tired or have a sore shoulder or something, they take it out on the staff. That may be an underestimate, and I suspect it is, but it’s hard to tell if strangers are indeed under an amount of stress that is unusual for them. I think it’s not that far off, though.

How can I tell? Well, I work in an academic library, and have for about ten years now, and I would estimate that the ratio of assholes I deal with pretty much triples at the start of finals, and returns to its previous level when finals are nearly over. Perhaps next year I’ll keep a tally and have more accurate numbers for quantitative analysis. But as a purely subjective experience of an inherently subjective phenomenon, I would say: triples.

And here’s the thing—if I have, say, two hundred interactions with people in the library over the course of the day, and on an average sort of day let’s say that ten or so are somewhere from mildly unpleasant to eye-rollingly awful, I am not going to walk out at the end of my day and say: I had one hundred and ninety perfectly reasonable and unmemorable interactions today. No, I’m not going to remember those unmemorable interactions, perfectly reasonable and overwhelmingly frequent as they were. I will go home thinking that I had a bunch of jerks in the library.

And if that number of unfortunate interactions suddenly triples, then that’s a lousy day, innit? Just a terrible, terrible day. I won’t even have enough energy to complain about thirty different assholes in the library in one day. Ugh.

But still… that’s a hundred and seventy perfectly cromulent interactions with patrons. Most people aren’t assholes, even under stress.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

1 thought on “Fun with numbers at the job

  1. Michael

    I have had to have this conversation with myself about authors at times. I’ve had thousands of authors, and a shocking number have been kind, considerate, responsible, and even good communicators. Very few behave terribly, but the negative interactions certainly do stand out and cause more than their fair share of grief.

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