There’s not a lot that connects North Korea, South Korea and Switzerland. Except, that is, their continued use of compulsory national service. With all three countries having rather turbulent histories, it could be hard to argue against national service, but a lot of other nations are moving on from the notion.
In Europe war used to be seen as rite of passage, a chance for young boys to become men. Luckily that stopped following the two world wars that reminded the public consciousness that war one hundred per cent sucks. I’m glad to live in a country that doesn’t have compulsory national service. But I think in these modern times we can do something more to help our society than learn to fight.
Since graduating university, I have worked in a call centre and a local cinema. Neither job is what I particularly want to be doing with my life, mostly because interacting with the general public is, to say the least, an unpredictable line of work.
The second your work takes you behind the phone, or behind the till, people’s perception of you entirely changes. Perhaps the unpleasantly bright red of the uniform brings out the subconscious anger of the customer, or perhaps they see anyone existing in a service role as somehow less than human. While most people are either perfectly average, or pleasant during our brief interactions, some are not. To them I am a deliberate obstacle to their enjoyment, apparently there to make their experience less enjoyable. Somehow, being yelled at, insulted and belittled is not my goal at work.
For instance, if I’ve told a would-be cinemagoer that the showing they want has been sold out, there are three reasonable responses:
One. Choose a different time.
Two. Choose a different film.
What you’d be surprised by is how many people ask what am I “going to do about it”. The answer, dear reader, is nothing. I can sell them different tickets, or serve the next customer. These are the only options available to me. I’m not going to build more seats, or pick other customers to forcibly removed from the screen. I do not work for Delta Airlines.
This is by no means the only time customers mistake my role as their personal servant. Nor is it by any means the most abuse I receive at my job, it’s just an example of members of the public that don’t understand how service jobs work. At the call centre, I don’t need to tell you about the abuse I received; but at the cinema, I’ve had customers demand I apologise for the price of Minstrels, as if I have any say in it. I’ve had customers visibly furious because a trailer for a film they didn’t want to watch ran before the film. I’ve even had customers threaten me for running out of hotdogs. Genuinely. And while I can complain about them, make jokes about them and tell stories about them, something is inherently broken if people think this is at all reasonable. We need more empathy. We need more discipline. We need to understand the chain of command. So, I’m proposing a radical change in our society, to help correct the behaviour of the public on those that reluctantly serve them.
Compulsory National Service Industry.
Imagine it: everyone has to hold down a single, paid, service job for one year. Everyone over the age of 18 will have experienced the total lack of respect that comes with the job, the weird hours, the boredom, the busyness, the repetition. Now imagine how they would treat the staff at their local cinema once they’ve finally completed their compulsory call of duty. It would be utopian. The few unpleasant customers would be seen as outliers, whom no one would like or agree with. Everyone would easily empathise with the staff as well, which in turn would make the staff much more approachable and less likely to shut down.
If everyone knew what it was like to work for the public, the public would be a lot easier to work for. Compulsory national service is out dated, dangerous and nationalistic, but national service industry would improve employability, worth ethic and just generally make people a bit easier to deal with, and isn’t that reason enough?