Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Some Days I'm Just Not a Big Enough Bastard For My Job

Whenever I meet people "in real life" whom I've known online beforehand (or when I meet new people in general), inevitably this question comes up:

So...what do you do?

I hate this question. Because it's not socially acceptable to make something up without the other person eventually wanting the true answer.

I'm a loan shark.

Ok, so not exactly a loan shark with the associated violence, blackmail and mafia connections. There is none of that. I'm a legalized loan shark.

I work for a payday loan company. 

I work at their main offices, and deal mostly with accounting issues. I am part of a team that audits our external locations each month. Most of my time is spent dealing with numbers, making sure that data matches appropriately and fixing errors. Very little time spent dealing with people.

But for 12 hours out of the week, I do overflow work for the Returned Check Department. Processing payments for our external locations, and talking to customers who call in.

No customer calls the Returned Check Department with good news.

These people are having a hard time. A very hard time. These are people who are so far "down on their luck" that they had nowhere else to turn but to take out a payday loan. And then couldn't pay it back. So their account got deposited, and it bounced.

Most customers then set up payment arrangements to pay small amounts over time. But then they can't pay those. And that's usually because some unexpected event happens to them. I've talked to people who have:
  • Lost their job
  • Gone through an expensive medical procedure. Whether they have insurance or not is inconsequential in most cases, it's a financial catastrophe.
  • Been arrested
  • Family arrested and needed to bail them out
  • Family in the hospital
  • Family who died
  • I've had people tell me they lost both their parents in the same month.
  • People say that they are taking care of their grandchildren because they don't know where the kids' parents are.
  • People who have lost a child. Sometimes before it was born. Unwillingly.
As you know, when it rains it pours, so most people's stories contain several of those elements (or many others) combined.

That's when they call me.

Once they've exhausted so many options of not knowing what to do and they are usually at their most grief-stricken in the debt process.

A man called me yesterday, he explained to me his situation over 10 minutes. Even as I tired to interrupt at multiple times to explain that it wasn't necessary, that I was going to help him out, etc etc, he continued going back and explaining his circumstances.
  • He is a disabled veteran.
  • With diabetes.
  • And anemia.
  • Whose condition recently got worse.
  • Whereas he used to have to go to the VA hospital less than once a month, now he goes every week.
  • The VA hospital is 200 miles away.
  • He is unemployed (he's disabled, remember?).
  • His wife is a substitute teacher, in a school district with 97 substitute teachers, she hasn't worked in a long time.
  • He owes us approximately $600.
  • He has 5 other payday loans with other companies.

What do you do in a situation like that? What can you really provide as help? He doesn't need better payment terms, or leniency, he's never going to be able to pay much on it...if anything.

Sure, the interest is stopped, and he'll probably be paying back a few bucks a month at 0 interest for the rest of his life. We won't send him to a collection agency, and he won't be turned over to the prosecuting attorney (both are actions which payday loan companies can and do perform). But what good do these concessions do? Really? On calls like that, I have to strongly fight back the urge to make it appear as if that customer, and their loan, never existed.

Some days, I'm just not a big enough bastard for my job.

My real problem with all of us this comes into on a spiritual perspective. 1 John usually wrecks me over things like this. Especially verse 3:17
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"
An excellent question indeed. As I have material possessions and I see people in need all the time. Let alone the people who call in to me. I feel bad for them, I do, but that's not what this verse is talking about.

This 'pity' is far more than an emotional response to someone's situation. It's compassion. And for that matter, it's not even a noun. It's a verb.

Compassion without action, is just an empty emotion.

Other translations render the phrase "has no pity on him" as "closes his heart to him," or "refuses to help him."

I do what I can to alleviate some of the soul-crushing debt that people deal with. But I am unconvinced it's enough.

Surely your situation is different...but you have come across people who need help. The world is so small, it's ridiculous to say that we're not confronted with people who need help constantly. Every second of our lives.

So how do you reconcile that scriptural principle in your life?

Maybe that will give some inspiration for how I can do the same.