Let’s be honest, those who enforce the rules sometimes get on our nerves.

I’m sure you’ve had moments when you’re deep in conversation with your friends at a cafe or restaurant, only to have service staff or safe distancing officers butt in to remind you to put your masks back on because the food hadn’t arrived yet.

Or when it’s peak hour and the SMRT officers bar you from boarding the train, even when it doesn’t look that full. Even before Covid-19, those who drive would understand that it has always been a cat-and-mouse game with the traffic police or parking enforcement officers.

My experiences are no different. Recently, I was out when it started pouring. I sought shelter in a nearby cafe, stepping into the eatery with damp skin, soggy clothes and my umbrella dripping with rain water. Relieved, I grabbed a coffee and settled in to wait the storm out.

The rain went on for what seemed like ages, blurring the view from the cafe’s glass panes. I decided to get some work done, but the moment I took out my laptop a voice piped up. “Hi, you’re not allowed to work here, there’s a time limit.”

A time limit? I thought. Are you kidding?! No way am I going back outside in that weather. I looked up at the waiter, ready to be firm. But he was twiddling his fingers nervously, and I held my tongue.

law enforcers
Image source: Shutterstock / Jonathan Karwacki

It was irritating and seemingly unreasonable, after all, I was a paying customer. But he was just doing his job in the new normal. What seemed to me like a tone-deaf reminder could very well have been him having to enforce strict company policy. Having friends who work in customer service, I know the internal struggle between being understanding to customers and not wanting to risk your job to bend the rules.

There’s much to be angry about when others step on your toes. But do they deserve the hate?

It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it

Enforcing the law is never easy. These long-suffering people are met with resistance and glares while they issue tickets for sloppy parking or reject requests for alcohol after 10pm. Most endure tantrums, insults and glib remarks. Some have had their stores trashed. Yet the work still has to be done.

It gets worse when they meet someone in an irritable mood. They get snapped at, threatened, and in extreme cases, even attacked.

They are people who deal with sullen faces and listen to irate voices, and it can put anyone under extreme stress.

For example, put yourself in the shoes of an SMRT officer facing a sea of grumpy commuters during a train breakdown. Or a cashier having to persuade a glowering customer to follow the grocery item limit, feeling all eyes on them as the queue lengthens.

It’s no wonder that many of such people who work in these jobs aren’t exactly in the best of moods at times.

Image source: Shutterstock / valeriy eydlin

Sometimes, they end up with extra duties that aren’t part of their job.

Condominium security guards have been dumped with the responsibility of safekeeping residents’ delivery orders. Bus captains have had to ask others to give up their seats for those who need it. And as they try their best to be of service to the public, they become the target of derogatory comments and backhanded remarks.

Being treated with little regard for their wellbeing can be traumatising, and for some who work in such industries, the negativity becomes too much to bear.

In an anonymous confession page for those who work in the F&B industry, a worker announced their resignation as the harsh environment was taking a toll on their mental and physical health.

Why do we give such a hard time to those who are just there to remind us to make a better living space for everyone? We forget that very often, they are just enforcing the rules – the same rules meant to guide us to becoming a more gracious society.

Image source: Shutterstock / Purino

That said, don’t be too hard on yourself for feeling a little spark of annoyance. This isn’t to shame you into not having feelings; simply to understand and empathise when you do. Remember that these service staff are often caught between customers and their employers.

Being kind to them goes a long way to make their job better. It doesn’t even need to be a big effort, a simple acknowledgement can go a long way towards improving their morale.

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What if they’re really being unfair?

However, sometimes, there are situations when a little empathy on both sides would have gone down a lot better.

Recently, a parking enforcement officer was suspended after several complaints were made about him being unreasonably strict with delivery riders. It didn’t help his case when moments after he refused to give some leeway to delivery riders, he was caught smoking at a void deck, littering and not wearing his mask properly.

He isn’t the only person in authority who could do with some empathy.

A friend of mine shared that she once went on a hike through a nature reserve. She emerged on the path out of the undergrowth panting and exhausted, only for a safe distancing ambassador to order her to immediately put her mask back on, in the most condescending manner.

It’s annoying when we see those who enforce the law refuse to make exceptions for what we believe to be flexible situations.

But let’s not be too quick to judge them. They might not all be sadistic; they might have been coming from a “better safe than sorry” point of view. Perhaps they could have suffered consequences in the past for relaxing the rules a little.

If they break the law themselves, they deserve to be reported to the authorities. But shaming them and slamming them on social media isn’t the solution, especially when we don’t know their side of the story.

Their day-to-day routine probably already involves hurtful words hurled at them; attacking them on social media, shoving a camera in their faces or posting toxic comments behind their back, even if they did screw up on the job, is a disproportionate punishment.

We are better than this.

Let’s start treating them like people

Image source: Shutterstock / fizkes

In another post on the same F&B industry confession page, another worker wrote that he appreciates gracious customers. “When (a) customer says ‘thank you’ and treats you like you actually exist and are so nice to you… man, that makes my shift.”

The takeaway is simple: Let’s treat those who work thankless jobs with basic human decency.

Whether it is service staff reminding you about safe distancing measures or SMRT officers telling you to make room in a crowded bus, I hope we remind ourselves that they are often under as much irritation and pressure as we are; yet they are still trying to do their job.

And I think that it’s commendable of them to take up such tough work.

So when you find yourself annoyed by an enforcement officer or a service staff rehashing company policy, no matter how silly the situation is, I hope you won’t give them any more pressure by snapping at them.

Instead, credit them for their effort, with a smile and a “thank you” – for reminding all of us to be considerate of each other, for attempting to get through their job the best they can.

Walking a mile in their shoes is the least we can do.

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