She was very pleasant, again apologizing to me for the broken washing-up machine. “€œYes,”€ I said, “€œbut it wasn”€™t your fault, and I shouldn”€™t have made such a fuss. I”€™m sorry.”€

It was a moot point which of us apologized the harder, but I felt much eased in my conscience and I was able to return to my work: for if there is one act I despise, it is that of bullying those in a subordinate position.

I still hate coffee to be served in paper cups: if I were the campaigning type, I should lead a campaign against them because of what they symbolize, a life of needless, headless-chicken hurry. But one of the disturbing features of the modern world is that one rarely knows whom to blame or properly to complain to, all responsibility being hidden under many layers of administration. Somehow, one always chooses the wrong person. It’s enough to turn one into a Hamlet.

Perhaps it was no one’s fault that the dishwasher had broken down: things go wrong even in the best organized and most efficiently administered of circumstances. And even the most perfect of human beings makes mistakes. On the other hand, perhaps the owners of the café had meanly or greedily neglected to maintain the machine merely to save a little money and make a little more profit. And who knows whether the “€œpolicy”€ of not allowing china cups when the machine had broken down was either necessary or sensible? (O policy, what crimes”€”or idiocies”€”are committed in thy name!) This is certainly not the policy in my house, and no one, as far as I know, has suffered by it. But in order for it not to be the café’s policy, perhaps someone extra would have to be employed, and then the coffee would be more expensive, people might refuse to buy it, and the café would close down. Is it better to have no coffee at all than coffee in paper cups? How complex the world is when you look too closely at it!

One thing is certain: small things, such as how one behaves, matter. I knew a brilliant writer who once said to me that snobbery, while undoubtedly a vice, was a small and therefore an unimportant one. I disagree. Of course, most vices are small by comparison with the worst possible examples of human conduct, but in fact people are usually more hurt and insulted by small acts of disdain than by grosser injustice. I am pleased that I apologized to the young Polish woman, but still feel bad that I occasioned the need to do so. In the repeated words of my school reports, “€œCould do better.”€ That, of course, is true of all humanity.    



Columnists

Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!

SIGN UP

Daily updates with TM’s latest