Parables are short stories intended to illustrate general principles or moral truths. Although the term is generally used in a biblical context, it occurred to me that a recent, extremely annoying, definitely not apocryphal experience I had with a plumber might be a parable for our time.
I won’t use the name of the company, not because it deserves such consideration, but because the problem it represents is anything but unique.
We had used this plumbing company without incident previously, and its name was well-known, so when our 16-year old toilet needed a new flush valve, my husband called them. The young woman who answered the phone was intent upon enrolling us in a yearly “maintenance contract,” and kept him on the phone for a considerable time selling him on its benefits. She finally scheduled the repair during a 4 hour window on the following day. He rescheduled some errands (I was at work) and waited, but the plumber never showed.
When he called to inquire what had happened, he got another young woman on the phone, who checked to see what had happened. It appeared that person he’d spoken with previously had been so focused on trying to sell him the yearly contract that she’d neglected to schedule the plumber. Young woman number two apologized, during what also became an unnecessarily lengthy conversation.
In order to expedite the repair, my husband gave her the make of the toilet (Kohler–a pretty standard brand) and the part number of the flush valve we needed. She had clearly never heard of Kohler–she asked whether that was a brand and could he spell it, which was disconcerting coming from someone who worked at a plumbing company. She did repeat the part number twice, to be sure she’d heard accurately.
This time, the plumber did show up (the following day), but without the part. According to him, she hadn’t passed on the information. He said he’d have to locate the part and come back, but that we really should consider buying a new toilet.
This was a Friday. The plumber left (without selling us a new toilet) saying he would secure the proper part and be back Monday. He did return on Monday, as promised, but with the wrong part. He left again, promising to find the right one and to call when he did.
At that point, I called our daughter who had mentioned that she had a plumber she liked. When I called that company, the phone was answered by a knowledgable person who immediately dispatched a plumber, and texted me to let me know he was on the way. (They even included a photo of the man they sent, so I’d know it was him.) That plumber was at my home within an hour of my call, and proceeded to install the new flush valve–properly and without trying to sell us a new toilet.
Guess which company I will use in the future?
Why do I say this mundane story is a parable?
The first company markets itself constantly. It runs lots of television spots and internet ads, and periodically mass mails “special offers.” It’s pretty obvious that the owners place more importance on image than on competence.
We live in an age that promotes celebrity over substance. We prefer pundits who tell us what we want to hear to “elitists” who actually know what they are talking about–politicians who give us slick sales patters over less-assured candidates who recognize the complexities of issues. But name-recognition and celebrity will only take you so far. At some point, you have to be able to do the job.
The Trump Administration has a lot in common with that first plumbing company we called.