Recently, I had a problem with my clothes dryer and, after becoming frustrated with a national company’s customer service operator who tried to sell me unnecessary extras and a less-than-efficient method of scheduling my service appointment, I chose a local repair company to look at it.


Recently, I had a problem with my clothes dryer and, after becoming frustrated with a national company’s customer service operator who tried to sell me unnecessary extras and a less-than-efficient method of scheduling my service appointment, I chose a local repair company to look at it. 
The local company was friendly on the phone and quick to arrive for the service call.  The repairman found that my problem was nothing more than an obstructed vent tube, the result of my dryer being too close to the wall. 
So he “fixed” it by pulling the dryer out from the wall, and I was promptly charged a $60 service fee for 10 minutes worth of effort. 
While mulling over my apparent foolish inability to correctly place my appliances, I wrote out the check and sent the repairman on his way.  Later when I phoned to ask for a discount, I was flat refused.
I understand that companies have a standard service call fee.  I understand they have bills to pay and payroll to make. 
But what happened to common sense?  Not so long ago in our country — perhaps during my parents’ generation — people firmly believed in an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. 
Our country’s financial woes are, in large part, a result of a warped sense of value:  what exactly is someone worth, professionally speaking?  How much is an hour of a CEO’s time worth?  What about a grocery store checker?  A doctor?  An assembly line worker?  A repair technician? 
When people charge exorbitant amounts of money for what they do — while others receive substandard pay — there is an ever-widening split between the classes and a lost sense of value in almost every aspect of our society.
Value is becoming more and more subjective.  According to Nicholas Kristoff, columnist for “The New York Times,” Richard Fuld, CEO of now bankrupt company Lehman Brothers, is reported to have made $17,000 an hour to essentially topple a once thriving empire. 
Just how much is one man worth?  While this example is a far cry from a small town $60 transaction, it speaks to a growing deterioration of value in our country.  Can we reasonably place a price tag on intelligence and expertise and how does this skewed sense of value translate to the products and services we purchase?  Maybe we don’t get what we pay for, after all.
Politicians and media spokespeople are quick to cite greed as the root of our economic problems.  And certainly, when greed is driving the machine, the machine rumbles along on self-aggrandized pomp, convincing everyone they are getting a great deal — but I’m not even convinced that greed is at the root of it.  Humanity has an enormous capacity to casually turn their heads when they either don’t like something, don’t want to deal with it, or don’t understand it.  This ignorance of the smallest details of our lives blinds us to common sense and common decency. 
We do things that most sensible people would deem disingenuous at best, morally objectionable at worst.  This is how a company comes to charge just a little bit more than the service was worth. 
This is how a company rationalizes its mistakes.  This is how a CEO comes to make $17,000 an hour.  No one bothered to take a sensible look at what was going on, and no one bothered to make it right.
In 1999, sociologists Bibb Latane and John Darley conducted a well-known study which explores their theory of “bystander apathy,"”also known as the “bystander effect.”
The study was a response to the high-profile stabbing death of a woman named Kitty Genovese on the street in front of her New York apartment in 1964.  Of the approximately 40 residents of the apartment building who either witnessed the crime or heard her screams, not one called the police until 35 minutes into the attack. 
Latane and Darley’s subsequent studies concluded that the more people present in an emergency, the less likely any one of them will act.  When faced with a clear danger, most of us will simply assume someone else will take care of the problem. 
When faced with something that doesn’t seem right, but which we don’t particularly want to address, we turn a blind eye.
I believe this bystander effect is at the root of what ails our society in all sorts of areas.  It’s the reason why our government doesn’t effectively solve problems.  It’s the reason we don’t stop our vehicles when a pedestrian is standing at the crosswalk. 
It’s the reason we don’t smile and say thank you to the checker at Wal-mart.  It’s the reason we don’t donate to charities.  It’s the reason we don’t give of our time, ourselves, and ultimately, it’s the reason we are reluctant to get involved in other people’s lives. 
For many of us, value goes much deeper than a price tag.  Thankfully, some people still get it right, and they deserve our praise:  The preschool director who was willing to be flexible and accommodating to keep my business, the woman at the department store who was willing to give an extra discount because I had to wait so long, the landscaper who came in under budget and gave me a lower price than what he’d bid on the project, the teacher who spent her own money to make sure her students had what they needed.
These people are everyday heroes — the people who place a higher value on others than they do themselves.  Perhaps they don’t get paid what they are truly worth. 
They are becoming an endangered species and yet, it is these people who will ultimately help rebuild economic and personal integrity in our country.  We can all learn something here; we can all rise to the occasion. 
While we can’t change a flawed system, we can make sure others get nothing less than our best, despite the cost.   
Melissa Dereberry
Rolla