I have learned a great deal from working with the public. I have been presented with generosity when it was least expected, found humility where it was largely undue, and received a genuine kindness from strangers just when I had started to believe that true courtesy was a thing of the past. I have had numerous handshakes and hugs bestowed upon me. I have also been yelled at, demoralized, called a "racist bigot" when I didn't offer one man the refund he was after, and even challenged to a fist fight in the K&L parking lot. I have finished some days with my head in my hands, my patience worn down to its bitter nub, my faith in humanity in ruins. At other times, I have rejoiced in the compassionate nature of our customers and their incredible care for what we do as a retailer, wondering what I could have done in a past life to make my current situation so fortunate. Working with the public, every single day, year after year, is a reminder of everything that's humanly possible in life—from the worst, most-insensitive characteristics of man, to the most-redeeming, unappreciated surprises we often overlook. In the end, what we achieve is a fine balance.
In Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance the true potential for both suffering and joy are presented in an epic and awe-inspiring tale of life in India during the 20th century. It's a novel that has been praised as "utterly Dickensian" in its realistic and honest portrayal of poverty and the struggle humanity faces in its woe (although not being a huge fan of David Copperfield myself, I can say that A Fine Balance is much less tedious). It's a story that will arouse in you a storm of emotions and force you to examine your own behavior as a result. You will not walk away from this book the person you were before.
What most amazes me about Mistry's writing is his acute awareness of how anger is often misplaced due to a lack of understanding; how someone's attitude or actions might rub you the wrong way, yet you have no idea what that person has suffered or experienced to make them so (and if you did know you might not have been so upset or judgmental). It's that awareness—that ability to put yourself in the shoes of another—that Mistry poetically serves his readers in A Fine Balance. Taking that extra step—pausing for reflection rather than reaction—is what makes for good writing. Hell, it's what makes for a good human being (and actually for good customer service as well). It's the fragile foundation of what dealing with the public is based upon and it can easily crumble if you're not properly equipped to handle its challenges.
A Fine Balance is a firm reminder of how cruel the world can really be, and all you can hope to do in the face of it. It should be required reading for anyone who leaves their home and interacts with the outside world.