ReBlog Wednesday – “Office Politics”

“I can hear

teeth just like a chainsaw,

grinding away behind your smile.”

“Hell is other people.” Try to tell the late French existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre he is wrong, and you’ll only end up lying to yourself. He knew it. We know it. And as much as this inescapable fact of our social condition torments us, we cannot, will not, ever escape each other. We are forced together in pairs, and families, and extended families. Clans, and tribes, and communities. Villages, towns, cities, and sprawling metropolitan abscesses that stack us on top of one another in concrete boxes, in a sad, pale imitation of the planet’s natural majesty.

We’re everywhere. Every vaulted summit, every deep-sea trench, and every frozen tundra has known the presence of our kind. I grew up hiking in the Rocky Mountains, far from civilization, and I remember finding traces of human beings way back in the bush. Usually beer cans. Because human beings will cart alcohol halfway up a mountain in the middle of nowhere, just to catch a buzz in peace, without being harassed by other members of the species. That’s the kind of creatures we are.

Love us or hate us, we can at least rationalize our relationships and the benefits they bring – most of the time. Our husbands and wives, our partners, our significant others, these are people that we chose to be with, at least to some degree. Although in some rare cases it might feel as if the universe has blessed us with our perfect soulmate. A soulmate, who we will later come to find out has habits and predilections that have us quietly, and perhaps far too often, wondering why the universe might hate us so much. Yet, we endure.

Our relationships with our mothers and fathers, if they are at least worth the titles, are sacred. We love them, as they love us, without reservation. Even if we diverge in opinions in our teens and young adulthood, our progenitors are, for the most part, accepted by us as part of our lives. Our brothers and sisters, likewise. Even if they steal our toys and make fun of our friends, we know that deep down, they love us. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and other extended family members tend to fall under a similar umbrella. We accept the fact that, however abstractly, they have some tenuous biological tie to us. Whether or not that means we have any meaningful interactions with them or not, we tend treat it as a fact of life.

There is no more unnatural setting and potentially toxic situation than an office workplace. Most people don’t want to be there. They’re there because they have student loans to pay. They have rent, or a mortgage due every month. A car payment for a vehicle that is primarily used to transport them to and from the steel, and glass, and concrete cage they hate. (This is a sore spot for most people. It’s probably best not to mention it.) They have kids to look after, and dinner to cook, and laundry to do, and health issues, and family problems, and stress, and hate, and depression, and you get to sit next to them for forty hours a week. Trapped. A prisoner. Or perhaps, a shanghaied sailor on a vessel that never docks. The boat just keeps on sailing until you’re sixty-five, then they set you ashore with a small pittance and tell you to find somewhere quiet and out of the way to die.

Human relationships are work. Always. They’ll never be completed. Each human interaction can either be a conscious work of art, where we pay attention to the feelings and emotions of the other party. Where we take their motivations, and their wellbeing into account when we choose our words and actions. Or they can be brutal and visceral exchanges. Head-to-head confrontations that while they may not lead directly to violence, they contain no measure of empathy, or compassion. Just two bull elk, fighting over territory and dominance of the herd. If you work in an office for any length of time, you’ll see both types of exchanges, and the whole messy spectrum in between.

Much like a Zoo, an office workplace is an artificial environment. We’re not meant to be there. Nothing about the fluorescent lights, or computer screens, or cubicles, or online meetings are organic, or nurturing of our bodies and minds. Sure, there are great places to work. There are companies that diligently study and cultivate their corporate culture to provide everything from in-house childcare, to yoga classes, to “flex days” so you can just not come to work if you don’t feel like it, but no amount of free taco truck lunches and “Casual Thursdays” are going to make prison life better if your cellmate in the next cubicle over has bad personal hygiene and is a low order sociopath.

Suffer through a twenty-year career in any office setting and you’ll see it all. Bad leaders who set their subordinates up to fail. Who take the credit for things they didn’t do, then blame their teams when a decision they made, or failed to make, goes wrong. Co-workers who steal, and cheat, and lie. Team members who actively seek to undermine the success of their co-workers in some demented attempt to gain a bit of favor, as if everyone else in the office doesn’t see what they’re doing. The chronic overachiever. The guy who just shows up and does the bare minimum. (At least he shows up!) The “Gossip”, the “Mother Hen”, the “Comedian”, the acerbic, but lovable guy that uses sarcasm and humor to mask the deep emptiness in his soul. The too-happy-and-bubbly recruit that everyone treats with kid gloves, because they were once young and optimistic before the daily grind eventually found bone. These are the people we are forced to get along with for one third of our day.

No relationships are ever easy. The ones foisted upon us by fate, even less so. With any luck, a person will end up part of an organization that recognizes the challenges inherent in human interaction and that builds in supports. The truly fortunate will end up a team of high-functioning individuals that are professional before they are personal, who leave their home life and ego at the door when they come in every day, and who are primarily concerned with being competent contributors to their team. There will be a quiet, even unspoken understanding that work is a necessary evil that ought not to be made any more difficult and unpleasant than it needs to be.

“Office Politics” touches on the more rabid and unpleasant types of office interactions. It’s not an uncommon predisposition to view these types of workplaces in a bad light, but it’s not altogether accurate. People and the relationships that bind them together are a nebulous, every transitioning spectrum, and if an organization has good leadership and vision, then it doesn’t have to be the prison I describe above. We all need to make a living. Work is only the means to an end, not the end itself. Faith, health, and family must come first. Otherwise, what is it we are showing up for? How is our job helping us achieve our dreams, or at least, lead us step by step out of Hell, rather than into it?

It doesn’t need to suck any more than necessary.

Thank you for reading!

If you have any feedback, please feel free to leave it in the comments.

Be safe.

Be well.

Much Love!


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