Responding from the Highest v. Standing Up for Your Rights

As those of you who are regular readers may recall, I have been working to use solar energy to provide most of my electric power.  The solar installation was complete in late August, and the public utility responsible for changing the meter to reflect the input of my solar energy to the grid advised on September 3rd that the meter would be changed within three to five weeks.  Week five came and went.  Week six, I wrote to the utility and asked why nothing had been done.  My tone was appropriate, and I did not let it upset me, but still I felt the need to take action.  I was advised that the metering people would be contacted, and it would be done or I would hear back within the week.  Week six passed with not a word.  Now it was week seven.  I wrote again asking why I hadn’t gotten a response.  The answer was that I deserved to be frustrated and should complain to the public service commission.

I filed a complaint; after all, I was directed to do so by the very entity against which I had the complaint, but was advised by the public service commission that it could take 30 days to respond to my complaint.  Meanwhile, my house was continuing to be powered by mountaintop coal mining and nuclear power.  This wouldn’t do.  I contacted my solar contractor and asked for assistance.  The solar contractor had connections with the commission.  This morning I received a very apologetic call from a supervisor at the electric company.  The meter was installed later in the day (although I still need for the electric company to “authorize” “my use” of the meter–not going to try and understand that one).  The authorization is supposed to be processed tomorrow.

Here’s where the apparent disconnect between responding “from the highest” and not being a doormat came into play in my mind.   The reason I got an immediate response was not the delay, but my documenting the foolishness of having been advised that the next step was to file a complaint instead of having been told the actions that the employee was taking to try and address my concerns.  I work for the government.  I know that is something that is wholly unacceptable, and my having used the inappropriate response to my inquiry to make sure I got a result will likely result in unpleasant repercussions for the employee.

This situation triggered a memory of an airport episode in the days when I was still flying around the country as a litigator.  When nearly everyone else at the airport was traveling for the holidays (it was December 22nd), I was flying out of National Airport to Hartford to take a deposition the next day.  I was waiting in a long line to check-in (this was long before the days of e-ticketing), and the airline announced the flight was canceled and that they would be putting all of us on a bus to Dulles airport on a flight that left two or three hours later (it was already the end of the work day).  I was a bit cranky, I am sure.  I asked in a way that everyone could hear, keeping in mind I had a ticket that could be changed, whether there were flights on any other airlines going to Hartford from National that night.  Gosh, apparently, no one had thought of that or was hoping that no passengers would ask for such a response since it would have a cost for the airline.  Within a half hour, several of us were re-booked on a flight with another airline leaving from National.  No bus.  Hardly any delay.  A college-aged woman who ended up with the benefit of the re-booking looked at me with her eyes shining, “are you are lawyer?” she asked.  I’ve always thought I might have been responsible for changing her life by having not stood for being treated badly, who knows whether it ultimately was for good or ill.

I often hear people saying that speaking up, taking action, refusing to suffer inappropriate, unjust, or unnecessary conduct is “bad.”  What is the difference between being passive and responding from the highest?  Where do we draw the line?

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