Do you remember Diana Ross singing that somewhat sappy, but heartfelt song, “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand/ make this world a better place — if you can”? Ah, now, isn’t that nice? And I remember growing up and hearing in church, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp”; not quite as comfy-cosy as the song, but still rather noble, as it was meant to encourage a sort of Reach for the stars! You can do it! philosophy integral to budding capitalists and would-be saints.
So I thought it rather nice when in July, after applying online for the job at Smith’s, I received an email that said someone from Corporate Office would reach out to me shortly for a phone interview. Reach out they did, and soon I was cutting and selling cheese with a vengeance. This reach out phrase issued from management mouths, I noticed, with increasing regularity and, it seemed to me, with less sincerity. Were these the latest HR buzzwords? I thought to myself, thinking of other words and phrases that have come and gone over the years: segue, purposefully, teachable moment, to name but a few.
Then yesterday I rang an insurance company to see about renter’s insurance for my little bits and pieces (it’s required; none of us have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, but that doesn’t matter to property owners). The fella came up with a sum and then asked, “How do you want to pay the $195 [yearly premium], debit or credit?” I informed him I had no such sum and if he needed the whole thing at once, he was out of luck. Not to be swayed from his sales mission, he quickly added that for a “small additional fee” (twice the premium, mind) I could pay monthly. He wanted $31. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I don’t have that, either. I get my disability once a month and whatever I had this month went toward paying the deposit and getting moved in.”
And then he said it: “Is there no one you can reach out to for the premium? No family or friends you could reach out to who would help you secure your valuables so you could have peace of mind?” I felt physically ill, but managed to utter, “No. No, there isn’t.” To myself I was thinking, “Wow. What’s most valuable to me are the friends and family I have, not the used furniture and kitchen utensils in my apartment. My most valuable temporal items are pictures and mementos of the family and friends, and they’re irreplaceable anyway.” My long silence prompted him to ask if I was still there. I told him I was and thanked him for his time and trouble but, no, I was not going to get insurance. He kept trying and it was all I could do not to hang up on him. [A few hours later, I received an email giving me a second chance to get insurance and wanting me to complete a survey on how the agent “handled my situation” — “handle” being the operative word, of course. I did not complete the survey.]
I’ve been going over this touchy situation in my mind ever since. I recalled that in Ireland when someone is asking nicely for a loan of some money, they use the verb touch, as in “I touched him for a few quid, but he didn’t have any.” Perhaps this is the origin of the phrase, “She’s a soft touch”; it has nothing to do with, say, the soft touch of a mother’s hand or handling things with a light touch. These latter would be what Ms Ross was referring to in her song.
And what about the “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp”? In today’s parlance, does it not imply that if you haven’t grasped enough money yourself, you should reach into someone else’s pocket for some more? By using words associated with comfort, love, and caring — reach out; touch — sellers of everything from jobs to insurance to education to healthcare hope to deceive consumers into thinking of them as benign benefactors, doing them a favor instead of what’s actually happening, which is lining their own pockets with our money.
It appears Diana Ross’s song needs to be reworded for today’s capitalists: “Reach out and touch somebody’s bank; make yourself wealthy, man — if you can.”