By Jen Jackson Quintano
Dear reader, allow me to let you in on a little secret: Your hired laborers, though they may appreciate you as an individual, do not enjoy your presence on the job site. Please, once the scope of work is agreed upon, just leave your plumber in peace, let your carpenter craft, allow your landscaper silence. If you do this, your task will be done more efficiently and will likely cost you less money. The latter fact isn’t just an issue of time-equals-money, but sometimes, there’s an unwritten surcharge for annoyance. Really. Don’t incur this expense.
It’s especially troublesome during tree removals. Most of our clients are well-intentioned, friendly individuals, but it should go unsaid that the combination of chainsaws and trees indicates danger. If I have my helmet on, it’s a sign that you should stay away.
I understand that, especially during a pandemic, people are lonely. We’re all hungry for connection. A visitor to one’s home is a rare treat. I understand that there’s much of interest to be learned from a tradesman, especially an arborist when you live in a forested environment. I understand that it’d be nice to acquire the skills necessary to do the tree removal yourself next time. And I absolutely understand that it’s pretty freaking cool to watch the top of a giant tree float safely down to the earth. That’s why I’ve taken about 500 photos of this event for our website.
However, I have enough on my plate in managing my own safety and that of your home. I don’t want to have to think about you, too. You do you, OK? We can chat when the state of my helmet hair is visible.
The worst, however, is when a client is present and wanting to discuss political matters. It’s one thing to have everyone focused on the tree, but it’s quite another to throw immigration or election fraud into an already tense mix. Please. Just don’t.
Years ago, on a job that sadly required little in the way of hearing protection (i.e., more handsaw, less chainsaw), a client spent much of our time espousing his views on immigration. Actually, that’s something of a euphemism. He espoused his views on wanting to shoot all Mexicans on sight at the border. We learned much about which part of the border, what kind of gun and the laws that he would uphold in his efforts.
First, let me acknowledge the monumental inhumanity of these statements. All lives matter, not just white American ones (a topic to be explored more fully at another time).
That duly noted, let’s discuss the difficult position in which this puts me as a worker-for-hire:
a). You are paying me, and I am grateful.
b). You are seemingly heartless and callous, and I feel angry.
c). I want to share my outrage, but this puts our working relationship (see point a.) in jeopardy.
d). If I don’t share my outrage, then I feel complicit in your viciousness.
What is the appropriate response in such a situation? Does the transactional relationship require me to submit to my client’s views? Or is it my duty as a human being to decry injustices wherever I find them, paycheck — and the ability to pay my employees — be damned?
In the aforementioned incident, I simply silently raged… with sharp implements in hand. Things could have gone so much worse.
Normally, as much as I dislike discussing politics with clients, I can diplomatically navigate the conversation. I don’t have to agree with the statements made, nor do I have to acknowledge them. Just let them slide and tactfully return the conversation to trees. There is already too much bellicosity in the political sphere for me to add to the clamor. Yet, when the statements are so egregious, diplomacy feels improper.
I often wish I had said something that day. I am in a place of privilege wherein I can say something. The truth, though, is that diplomacy, rather than rage, is truer to my character. I am conflict averse. I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable (though I somehow rationalize others making me feel quite uncomfortable).
Not only was I silent with the wannabe immigrant assassin, I’ve wordlessly endured innumerable misogynistic comments on the job. On a wildland fire assignment once, another woman ducked into the charred forest to pee. A man nearby commented, “Yeah, I’d like to follow that back in there, you know what I’m saying?” No, I don’t. You want to assault a woman while she urinates? Is that what you’re saying?
I thought much but said nothing. I just let it slide. I didn’t stick up for the only other woman on the fire line that day. Speaking up is remarkably uncomfortable.
Yet, I can speak up when your safety, as my client, is at risk. I will call you out on being too close to the tree or machinery. I can find my voice when I need to protect you. I did so with the xenophobic client, lest he be knocked to his senses by a fruit tree limb. But where is my voice when I need to protect the marginalized or myself? I understand that verbal assaults are different than concussions, but the ramifications of each injury can be just as lasting.
I hope to never be in this difficult situation again. You can help, dear reader, by letting me carry out my job. I will do my part by cultivating my voice. We can then talk about whatever you like after the tree is cleaned up and payments have been made. At that point, we will be on equal footing and safer ground.
Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at sandcreektreeservice.com. See more of Quintano’s writing at jenjacksonquintano.com.
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