Exploring power relationships in a given society makes for fascinating observations. Such interactions play out in formal ways, as when bosses issue orders to workers, teachers admonish students, captains, privates, along with other informal scenarios, generally tolerated, though not appreciated. Power plays may not be intentional, but nevertheless occur because of social imbalances between the parties involved. Ordinarily” resistance” is not deemed appropriate or fruitful.
Let us focus upon “waiting” as an example of how social authority may be exercised. I was drawn to this subject when, in a recent conversation, a lawyer friend, commented upon the frequently high-handed behavior of judges. “A judge will, for example, adjourn for lunch and request that all parties be back in court at 2PM. And of course we are, but he doesn’t show up until 2:30. What can you say – he’s the judge, it his court. So you wait – what choice is there?”
Who hasn’t waited in a doctor’s office? Sure you have an appointment, still you’re unlikely to be seen at that time. So you wait and wait, grow impatient and then wait some more. Being stacked up produces a steady flow into the exam rooms (where people again are kept waiting). And because patients “depend” on doctors and often accept them as social superiors, they will usually swallow their pride and wait to be called. It’s not that doctors deliberately make patients wait, it’s that many are not attentive to this issue and rarely are challenged over this demonstration of their authority.
College professors can also be abusers. Students arranging conferences with their instructors often discover that scheduled times are just as apt to be violated as honored. Job applicants often find themselves in similar circumstances, obliged to wait to be seen. Worse still they may, while making their presentation, be interrupted by the interviewer who accepts a phone call and then engages in lengthy conversation.
An odd variant to this exercise of social leverage occurs when relatively high status folk call upon painters, plumbers, electricians, repairmen, etc., working class individuals whose services are required. Often enough they do not arrive on schedule. Waiting for them becomes both unsettling, because it means wasted time, and disturbing because it reverses established patterns of social authority.
Not surprisingly the poor wait the most. Given their lack of social standing, they have little choice. One cannot overestimate the level of patience poor people display as they wait on bread lines, outside food pantries and shelters, in the halls of social service agencies and government departments, on the benches at emergency rooms or clinics or at polling locations (because fewer voting machines are placed in these districts).
So next time you’re waiting, consider if there are sufficient reasons for it or whether the problem is your insufficient social standing.