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Are Corporations Traumatizing Us?

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There is a lot of discussion these days about trauma, and professionals like Dr. Gabor Mate have made a strong case for how modern life can inflict deep wounds that are difficult to heal, and often cause chronic illness.

While much of stored trauma is from interpersonal relationships, it would seem that a great deal of unnecessary stress is inflicted by corporations (and government – large institutions generally, based on social design.)

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Here is a Dramatization of Modern Life:

An important corporate executive leaves a restaurant after lunch and reaches for his phone, which crashes to the pavement and shatters.

Unnerved, he returns to the maître d’ of the restaurant and asks for a phone.

He realizes now that all of his numbers, including that of his assistant whom he MUST contact were on the phone, or still back in his office on the PC.

He dials the main number of his company, in a rush to be connected to his own office.

The first thing he hears is: “If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911.”

He shakes his head. He’s with a pharmaceutical company. Then he is asked whether he wants to continue in Spanish – and if so press 1, otherwise, press 2.

Already anxious enough, he is confronted with this:
“Welcome. Your call is very important to us. 

Here is a brief summary of our new product, which you can find online…”

He knows the summary. He wrote it.

Then – the dagger:   “Our menu has changed. Please listen carefully to the following 8 options…”

He tries to shout, “Representative!” but finally listens and picks the option for his own department.

First Chance for a Human

Again, he is confronted with more options on why someone might call there, but now there is an option to press “0” to speak to an Operator.

After a dozen rings a young spritely voice answers the phone and asks what he needs.  He tells her that he is the Vice President of the department, his phone broke, and he needs to be connected to his assistant in HIS office.  Right away.

Oh, she says, does he know the extension? Here is our company directory….

And she’s about to connect him to the directory when he SHOUTS at her and repeats WHO he is.

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Hold on one minute, he is told.  He waits, fuming and then hears her voice:

“Okay, can you please tell me the name of your first pet?”

Exasperated, he shouts the name of his first puppy and she responds, “Sir there is no need to shout.  I’m trying to help you.”

He stops himself when she says, “Oh here it is – I’ll connect you now.”

He waits for his secretary or assistant to answer but then hears his own voice, asking him to leave a detailed message and a callback number.

This is the state of corporate “communications” today. Everyone has experienced it. Maybe this executive will insist on a new system where you can get a human.

At the next meeting, he says, “I want the phone answered with a brief invitation to tell the AI what you need.  Then provide four options and include one where they get a human right away.”

From what we’ve seen, that’s probably not going to happen.  If anything, companies are making it even more complex to reach someone who can help, often it seems it’s because that’s what they intend.

In a truly humane society, we would not allow abstract entities with mission statements to terrorize us. 

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Corporations Should Relieve Our Anxiety – Not Create It

There would be studies of the extent to which stress caused by these sorts of indignities, and remedies put in place.

It would no longer be possible for medical companies to confuse your billing so thoroughly and overcharge you to cause more stress than was ever treated by your provider.

While it would be nice to reach a human at a company on the phone, trauma can occur as easily in the other direction. 

A credit card representative can call you at night and ask you about a charge, connect you to the “fraud department” and when you say it wasn’t you, they will tell you that they need to close the account.

They’ll send you a new card.  In the meantime, some of your recurring payments may go delinquent if you forget to change the card number in their app.

You can complain but you will be told that it’s for your protection.  That’s their policy.  If you’re lucky they might FedEx the new card.

We used to have a few government agencies that protected us, but many of these Cabinet positions are now filled by ex-lobbyists or former executives from the industry they are meant to regulate.

When social media first came out a few hardy souls could embarrass some large companies publicly and get a bit of satisfaction.  There was someone whose guitar had been destroyed by an airline and he wrote a song that went viral.

Of course, corporations also have attorneys and “reputation management” experts (PR) to squelch such occurrences before they can impact the bottom line.

Shareholders Always Trump Customers

But human beings are being crushed by the behemoths that can fray nerves to the edge with their overly complex policies and protocols and complete disregard for how they are treating clients.

And often, when you call them, after you’ve been on hold long enough, a customer “care” representative will painstakingly explain to you the exact policy that they are following to screw you.

Until you raise your voice. Then they will insist that you be “professional” and ask if you’d like them to continue to “assist you”?

Unless corporations are reined in and re-educated, humans will continue to suffer grievously.

It can be just as bad, and often worse if you work for a large company.

Now they have a specific term for it.   This article from the Training Industry website explains:

Corporate Traumatic Stress Disorder (CTSD) Is the Scourge of the 21st-Century Workplace

“These “small t” traumas are an accumulation of small but unsettling and distressing events that culminate in exceeding a person’s capacity to cope and a disruption of emotional functioning. While these traumas have no accompanying threat of physical harm, they are threatening due to the individual’s feeling helplessness, along with guilt and shame.”

What Can Be Done?

In America the first thing would be to reverse Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that basically gave corporations human rights, and allowed them to make large, unmoderated campaign contributions.

And of course, we need to monitor artificial intelligence and perhaps limit the use of “virtual” receptionists. Working to rehumanize our society as much as possible is important too.

We understand the sources of trauma now more than ever, we should not allow our creations to cause more of it.

Latest CE podcast episode: Staying Grounded & Resilient in Chaotic Times


(Tom Bunzel was a contributor to Collective Evolution and now writes for The Pulse.  His new book “Conversations with Nobody: Getting to Know ChatGPT” – a book written with AI, about AI and giving a taste of AI, is available on Amazon.)

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