Does quality truly matter these days? Whether talking about a relationship between a service provider and customer, the tone of relationships between staff and an employer, or the quality of products in the marketplace, providers seem to be growing increasingly coarse over time.
Readers have experienced this often. I doubt there is a reader who cannot recall a time being left on hold for an interminable period of time by a computer or a customer service agent. Who can remember the last time that a cook could prepare poultry, skin on, without first taking far too long to remove quills, pin feathers or worse? Today, while supervising a caterer in my synagogue’s kitchen, I saw a staff spend hours removing pin bones from salmon. The caterer always uses the same supplier, and was shocked by the poor quality of the fish. In past years filleted salmon had been properly prepared. Ever have to return to a mechanic to fix something again only hours or days after the original repair?
Sometimes this deterioration of service can have terrible consequences. A good friend is suffering through stage 4 breast cancer. It metastasized and invaded both her lung and lymph nodes. She works in a health care agency, and took preventive steps to avoid such a medical catastrophe. Her annual mammogram, taken only months before her cancer diagnosis showed her to have a clean bill of health. Did it? Might it have been incompetently read? There is none taking responsibility for the mishap. Doctors chime that her cancer is just particularly virulent. Really?
Other occasions are not nearly as severe. Doctors, insurance companies and pharmacists encourage patients to use generic instead of branded medications. The generics are often less costly than those made by the big companies in pharmaceuticals. What none of these groups tell us is that there can be quite a variety in the quality of drugs made generically. Some are imported from places where health safeguards are poorly maintained. Pharmacists explained to me, on more than one occasion, that only the active ingredient is the same as that in a name brand. Fillers and additives may vary broadly, and may cause disastrous consequences. Ever taken a drug that escalated a condition for which being treated? Ever find side effects of a pill were fully different from that of another company’s? I know my wife and I have shared those experiences, and been told by our pharmacists that our reactions were not that unusual or unforeseen. We have learned that sometimes it is worth indicating which generic brand we prefer, as pharmacies can try to provide medications that helped instead of hindered.
Regarding relationships, food we eat, drugs we take, life and death decisions we face, we are often faced with a dilemma of improper service. It is immoral and unethical. Torah teaches that a merchant must use proper, just measurements. Using accurate weights and measures is absolutely basic in any transaction. Sometimes businesses can be chastened to be more accountable by proper labelling of ingredients. However, such a simple remedy is insufficient. After all, often the improvement required is difficult to quantify or accurately describe. What is truly demanded for a fair society is that all members take full responsibility for their actions and their products. They should provide service in which they take pride, and never treat others any more poorly than they would want to be treated, per the guiding light of the Jewish sage, Hillel. Providers need to accept that their actions may be wrong, even if perfectly legal.
Were people to be more responsible for the products of their hands and minds, the world would be a nicer place in which to exist, and perhaps a safer one as well.