1. Capitulation. I’m appalled that a corporation with the size and resources of Sony Pictures folded like a rag doll when faced with what basically scales up to nation-state level cyber bullying. Personally, I would have put The Interview on every screen possible, made it available for free online, and publicized the hell out of it at every step – a full page ad in the Sunday New York Times unequivocally stating that Sony will not be intimidated or extorted. I’m even more alarmed at the silence coming out of our political leaders in Washington. At first blush this was a cyber attack directed against a private company, but what it really was is an attack on intellectual property every bit as real as an attack on a US flagged ship on the high seas or a missile targeted at one of our cities. Hacking carried out at the behest of a foreign power should be treated as seriously and responded to with as much fury as a conventional attack on American soil. If cyber is going to be the new frontier, we’d damn well better start defending it instead of showing cowardice in the face of the enemy.
2. Story Time. I’m sure all your family traditions and legends of Christmases past are very important to you. The memories undoubtedly fill you with happiness and joy. As someone who’s only a step or two removed from being a complete stranger, however, your stories don’t do much for me besides make me wonder why the hell I’m sitting here listing to you tell me about mid-century Christmas in the American heartland. It’s not so much that I don’t care about Christmas as it is I don’t care about *your* version of Christmas in 1964. It’s a distinction that some people seem to have a much more difficult time making than they really should.
3. Cuba. The Cold War’s over. We won. The very best thing we can do for the hungry and oppressed people of Cuba in the 21st century is welcome their island country into the warm embrace of the Monroe Doctrine, normalize relations, open two or three Atlantis-style resorts, a few casinos, and turn the place into a tourist destination. Some day in the not too distant future the Brothers Castro are going to be dead and I’d rather our interests have a leg up then find themselves looking in from the outside.
I make a concerted effort to steer this blog away from specific issues at my own office and more towards a general discussion of work in general and the foibles of the workplace writ large. However, like the modern cop dramas that everyone seems to love these days, the following issues are ripped from the headlines of real life experience while working in an office somewhere in Maryland. No bureaucrats were physically harmed in the writing of this post, but their souls might just be a little more crushed for the experience.
1. Don’t send an email and then immediately walk over to the recipient’s desk to tell them you sent an email. Thanks to the little glowing screen on their desk, they probably know this already. Plus, there’s a good chance they’re working on something and will get to whatever issue you’re having in its order of importance to them, not based on the number of times you ask for it. In fact, multiple requests for the same information will result in all of your messages being shifted to the bottom of the pile.
2. If you’re working in an office far removed from lunch options, there’s a safe bet that you’ll do at least a little eating at your desk. While it’s sad and depressing in its own right, the thing people need to remember is that the lunch break is sacrosanct. It should be inviolable, except under the most extreme of circumstances. If you approach someone’s desk and they’re stuffing half a sandwich into their face, that shouldn’t be considered an open invitation for a long winded discussion about anything. That’s especially true if the victim of your verbal deluge is trying to read a few pages of a book or magazine while jamming his face full of food – pretty much the universal sign that they’re on break and not working at the moment. If you’re one to be stuck eating at your desk on the regular, picking up a Do Not Disturb or Out to Lunch sign to hang on your cube at appropriate times might not be a bad investment.
3. If you think you’re having a discrete personal conversation on the phone in your cubicle, think again. Everyone within earshot knows if you’re blowing up at your wife, behind on your mortgage, or recently contracted the herp. Yes, we all know having those conversations from the comfort of your office chair is convenient, but sometimes everyone would be better served if you wandered off somewhere and had that discussion on your cell phone. When you’re forced by your profession to sit shoulder to shoulder with them for eight hours a day, you can at least do them all the favor of not discussing your most recent bout of hemorrhoids?
1. Being polite. I realize the social convention that tells us it’s bad to walk around punching people in the face exists to protect all of us from each other. God knows there are probably of plenty people out there who would like nothing more than the opportunity to slug me with no repercussions, but still, there’s something infuriating about being in a position day-in-and-day-out of being annoyed to your wits end and not being able to say or do anything about it because it would be considered rude. The people who don’t get typical social cues shouldn’t be covered by normal social conventions. When I’ve turned my back to you and you keep talking, I should be allowed to punch you in the face. Invade my personal bubble? Punch in the face. Have no clue that others aren’t interested in a monolog about your top five worst medical problems? Punch in the face. Twice. You get the point. When someone lives outside society’s norms, maybe they shouldn’t be protected by those norms. If your feelings get hurt and your nose gets bloodied in the process, well, maybe that’s just a lesson learned… and yet for some reason when you tell someone they’re being an obnoxious douchecanoe, you’re suddenly the asshat. There is no justice.
2. Celebrities. You know the funny thing about celebrities behaving badly? Their asshattery is only covered by the news outlets because we all tune in. Justin Bieber getting a DUI? News. Brittany Spears flashing her hoohaw. News. Kim and Kanye doing anything? News. Except the thing is, it’s not news. People get DUI’s, show their lady parts, and are generally stupid every day of the year without it being the lead story on every website and newspaper in the country. Celebrities get the attention they do not because they behave badly, but simply because we allow it to be so. It’s the classic example of ignore it and they will go away. Or at least they’ll continue to get into trouble, but do it more or less in anonymity and without it becoming a spectacle. It’s a crying shame that we all can’t just agree to ignore these tools until they stop getting the ink they so desperately want.
3. Policy. As a rule, policy is something I’ve always considered a guideline. It’s the user’s manual version of how to do things – 98.9% of the time, policy coverers just about everything you’ll deal with on a regular basis. Conveniently, though, policy very rarely has the force of something more codified, say like a regulation or a law. That means there’s almost always a way to get an exception to policy (or in more extreme circumstances just ignore the policy because it doesn’t pass the common sense test within the context of new or extenuating circumstances). No one is doing themselves a service when the blindly follow something just because “that’s how it’s done” or “that’s the policy.” You see, the problem with blind adherence to anything is that it so often comes with unintended consequences… and those so very rarely end well for anyone.
There are few things that generate a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach as fast as when a coworker randomly decides to pick my phone up off the desk and start poking around. Sure, there’s nothing technically illegal on there, but you’re just going to have to believe me when I say that there are images, files, bookmarks, and texts that would probably make their overly-sensitive eyes bug out of their heads. I’m not particularly easy to embarrass, but there are most assuredly some conversations that I don’t particularly want to have with my colleagues. That’s more to save them from mortification than anything else.
Unfortunately, some people just aren’t as good at picking up on subtlety as they are at picking things up off your desk… Which means you have to look them directly in the eye and tell them to be careful because they are going to end up seeing way more than they bargained for. It’s always fun to see the light slowly flicker on as it dawns on them what you’re talking about. It’s like suddenly your phone heated up to 300 degrees and they can’t get rid of it fast enough. For a minute, I actually thought the nosy coworker in question was actually going to drop it on the spot.
It would probably cost me a new phone at least, but maybe I’ll just let the next one get a good look at the ol’ photo archive. It might just be worth the replacement price and the week long trip to sensitivity training it would be sure to cause.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
Are you really sitting in your cubicle trimming your fingernails at 7:10 AM? Really? There are only three of us in the office at this hour and that means there’s no way you’re even trying to hide the clip… clip… clip noise that you’re making over there. You are, quite simply, a disgusting person. That isn’t something you might have wanted to do in the privacy of your own home or even in your car if you want to stretch it. But sitting there with fingernails flying all over your cube? Yeah. You’re classy like that.
I liked you better when you use to sleep all the time. But in fairness even then I didn’t like you very much.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.