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Before hanging up, walk in their shoes

Feb. 15, 2001

I was a teenage call girl.

OK, so maybe not -- but I might have gotten more respect in that profession.

For three very painful months of my high school career, I was a telemarketer. I was so excited about the $8-an- hour salary that I never really stopped to consider that my first job tied on the respectability scale with televangelists and shopping mall survey ladies.

It's not as hellish as it might seem. Though I lost the respect of the general populous, I couldn't have gotten better preparation for the job world.

I learned the fine arts of rejection, humility and a low respectability rating -- perfect schooling for someone who wants to be a journalist.

Besides the permanent self-esteem wounds I garnered, I also learned a thing or two about people, and how to ward off telemarketers.

Lesson One. The anonymity of the phone never brings out the best in people. When the Girl Scouts come selling cookies -- something no one really needs -- they don't get insulted, yelled at or cursed at. Yet when a telemarketer calls, the nicest of people suddenly turn into Joe Pesci from Goodfellas.

Lesson Two. Telemarketers are not a highly trained group of Satan's spawn unleashed on the earth to wreak havoc on your life. They are students, mothers and people trying to earn a living.

Lesson three. Every hour of the day, even if it's you home alone watching Jerry Springer, is family dinner time. Though the number of families that actually eat together grows smaller by the minute, on the other side of the phone, every family is the Waltons.

You haven't just interrupted a meal; you've interrupted a magical time of bonding between mom, pop, brother and sis.

Lesson four. Parents turn their children into wonderful liars. When the question is, 'Is you mom there?' you wouldn't believe the conversation you hear in the background. Tell them I'm not here. Tell them they have the wrong number.

And you thought Eminem and MTV were stripping away your children's innocence.

Lesson five. There will always be ruthless telemarketers who give the rest a bad name. I was weak and always said goodbye at the first 'no,' but now I always seem to get the telemarketer who won't take eight 'nos' for an answer.

So hanging up on them is the only answer, right? Not exactly.

As Diane Court teaches us in the movie Say Anything, be a little decent. So how do you get rid of telemarketers and not become hateful in the process? Pick up the phone. Sounds ironic, but it works. Caller ID is not the godsend you'd like to think it is. You will remain in the computer database until they get a yes or no from you. Kindly tell them no, and ask to be taken off of their list. They can't call you again.

Still feel the need to scream? Call the companies that sold your number to the telemarketers.