I’ve made something of a hobby out of ranting and raving about the job, poking fun at the nature of the bureaucracy, and generally saying out loud what I suspect a lot of us have thought at one point or another. The truth is, I’ve had a remarkable career – well beyond what any kid born down the crick in the late 1970s had any right to expect.
With one or two notable exceptions I’ve been blessed with bosses who existed somewhere in the good to exceptional range. Again, with occasional exceptions, I’ve mostly had colleagues who I both liked and respected.
In a few months, I’m coming up on 19 years on the job. Through all of that time, I always felt capable of informally working through any problematic issues that came up. At worst, there would be an awkward conversation and things could be nudged back on track. For the first time in almost two decades of service, I’ve encountered an issue that couldn’t, by its nature, be resolved informally, off the books.
Despite my reputation as a grenade thrower, let me say that I absolutely hate having been put in this position. I hate that I needed to be the one to say something in a universe that values going along to get along. I hate that it puts more trouble on my boss’ plate when it’s already piled high with shit sandwiches. I hate that I have colleagues who could be put into a worse position than they were before I opened my mouth.
Mostly I hate the fact that decisions made by those at echelons higher than reality made any of it necessary in the first place.
1. Panhandlers. Need gas? Need beer? Whatever you need I’m sure you have a fine reason for not tending to those things through the fruit of your own labor. But you see I have bills too. Lots of them. My first duty is to provide for me and mine in our daily needs and then lay some back for the future. So no, I’m not interested in your sad story. We all have our troubles and I already subsidize enough bad decision making through state and federal taxes that I’m not interested in taking on any additional dependents at this time.
2. Blast email from Maryland’s US Senator. I regularly opine to my Senators and Member of Congress. I’ll continue to do so at any time I feel the need. Receiving their occasional email blast “report from Washington” though, always reminds me that while they may indeed be my duly elected and seated representatives in Congress, I agree with them on almost none of the issues that matter. I love my home state from the beach to the bay to the mountains, but ultimately its politics and its taxes virtually ensure that my time here in my home state has a definite expiration date.
3. 3:30 AM. I only have so much tolerance for laying wide awake in bed. Which is to say I have no tolerance for it at all. Once awake I want to be up and doing stuff. It’s fine on a weekend when I can get up and start knocking things off my list. It’s a bloody nuisance when it means just another 90 minutes to kill before heading to work. At least it set the tone nicely for the rest of the day so that’s something.
I’ve ranted and railed at length about the seemingly endless trail of mandatory training “experiences” my employer requires each and every year. Some of those trainings are online modules that literally have not changed since I started way back in 2003. I’m looking at you here Constitution Day Training. Having studied history and political science, there are very few documents written in the English language that I prize more highly than the Constitution. Clicking through a few pages of how a bill becomes a law or which powers reside in the Executive and which in the Legislative just doesn’t fill me with an augmented sense of awe and wonder. The fact that so much of this training is stale, though, misses the broader point.
Regardless of how stale or dated the training, it’s mandatory. Beyond it being mandatory, eventually I know I’m going to catch hell if all those little boxes are not check off next to my name before the clock runs out on the end of September. What everything finally translates to is I’m going to suck it up and wade through hours of pointless training not because it’s teaching me something new, but because I want to keep myself out of trouble. I’m sure that’s some kind of pedagogical construct, but it’s not one I learned about a hundred years ago when I was learning to be a teacher and design instruction. Again, however, even that misses the big point here.
The really important thing I have to say about the mind numbing volume of mandatory training is that unlike previous years where I come sliding in sideways and waving one last certificate on September 30th, I’m finished early. Very early. I’m fairly sure that the first time in my career that’s ever happened. It feels vaguely unnatural. Fortunately I know that feeling can’t possibly last long before someone slams a new “must do” training requirement into the system so we can piss away more time on activities that mostly teach you how to sleep with your eyes open.
I can almost always point to the cause-in-fact or at least the proximate cause of whatever jackassery is happening on any given day. Usually the cause is fairly basic such as “You went to the office” or “You left the house.” I take full and complete responsibility for those, although the imperative to earn a living and find food are largely unavoidable contributing factors to those causes.
Drill down a little deeper, though, and I can trace most issues back to an even more troubling root. Most days at least once I mutter to someone that the fault lies no so much with the stupid thing that happened, but in the expectation that something stupid wouldn’t happen. You had expectations. There’s your problem.
There’s quite a bit written about the dangers of low expectations, but it’s been my experience that the real danger lies in having expectations. Period. Full stop. It’s in those inexplicable moments when I momentarily ignore my own advice that I tend to get myself into the most trouble. I’d be far better served all the way around to remember that the moment you start having expectations of anyone other than yourself, well, you’ve practically set the stage for failure or at least for disappointment – usually both.
I have occasionally been known as a pot stirrer, a rouser of rabble, a trouble maker, and a malcontent. Maybe I am those things, but generally I only do it in the service of a greater cause – to force a conversation onto hard territory that needs covered or to make sure that the dissenting side of the argument gets heard. I don’t generally do it because I want to hear my own voice. You can safely assume that if I had my druthers, I’d pass most days in writing and quiet contemplation with the television news channels providing the low-volume background vocals.
More often than not, I’m being a contrarian because there’s a point that needs to be made, not because I particularly enjoy being the odd man out. I could save myself one hell of a lot of headaches by sitting down, shutting up, and just letting things happen. Unfortunately that’s never been my approach… though some days, I really do wonder if giving a rat’s ass about anything is really worth the trouble that comes with it.
So, it would seem that the Syrians are chunking chemical weapons at each other. The good news is that if they are busy beating the snot out of factions within their own country, they’re not busy chunking the same weapons at us or our allies in the region. Of course there’s a fair chance that will change as soon as the Western allies start lobbing cruise missiles at Damascus. It’s a game changer and makes the US and our allies legitimate combatants. I’m not saying I don’t like our odds in a general engagement with the Syrian army, but we should walk into this thing knowing full well that it’s going to be a shit storm from the minute we light the candle.
Politics and the 24-hour news cycle prevent us from going to war the same way we did in the first half of the 20th century. I might even be inclined to argue those are two of the contributing factors for why our latest wars have had declared “endings” rather than ending in substantive and actual victory. If CNN’s cameras had been around to film Dresden burning or the blood on the sand of Okinawa, I wonder if World War II would have gone into the win column or if we’d have collectively settled for an unsatisfying and counterproductive draw.
I have no compunction about England and the US leading the world on this latest Mid-East escapade. It’s probably the morally right thing to do and we seem to be the only countries around with the stones to do it even if the world will immediately crucify us for it. We just need to remember that in throwing our lot in with the Syrian rebels, there’s going to be a price to pay in blood, treasure, or more likely in both. The stakes of the game are the lives of the men and women who serve and we damned well better be playing with loaded dies before we decide to give them a roll.
If I thought we were going to storm the beaches, stamp the flame of radicalism out using any means necessary, establish a working and legitimate democracy, and stay there for 50 years to make sure the peace is secure, I’d be more inclined to say it’s a good idea. That’s the model that worked in Japan and Germany. If we follow the model used in Iraq and Afghanistan of political half measures hog tying military expediency, or worse yet, fire off a couple dozen cruise missiles and hope for the best, all we’re doing is creating more trouble than we already have – and a mess that we can’t avoid ten or twenty years from now.
I get to the office early most mornings. It’s usually a good chance to catch up before everyone else starts wandering in. One of the challenges is that pretty much no one with any passing relationship to authority is around in the event an employee is feeling lonely and wants to talk. So more often than not, I’m the lucky manager who gets the early morning conversations. This morning was one of those times.
Jeff: Good Morning *seeing “employee” walking over to my desk*
Employee: My computer works now, but none of my files are there. I think it’s broken. *looking at me plaintively*
Jeff: Ummm… Did you call IT?
Employee: Uh. No. I thought you’d know how to fix it. They got it working yesterday but now my files are gone.
Jeff: So you want me to fix something they broke yesterday?
Employee: *looking at me blankly*
Jeff: You’d better call IT since they know what they did to it yesterday.
Employee: They won’t be in for another 20 minutes.
Jeff: Patience is a virtue, I’m told.
I’m not the friggin’ laptop whisperer over here. Put in your help request and wait like everyone else does. My using illicit passwords to go in and tinker around with your settings is pretty much guaranteed to only cause more trouble. If not more trouble for you, then certainly more trouble for me… and that’s a no go at this station.
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.