Category Archives: Work

How Long Is A Piece Of String?

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A lot of thought and solutions are ridiculous. I sometimes get caught up in either the details or see the issue from too far away, so much so that complexity becomes obvious simplicity. In my case, though, I’m not in charge and not being paid to weigh the complexities of moving social issues.

It’s possible to give a completely accurate answer to a question – and sometimes such an answer follows a logical route. It might still avoid addressing the fundamental question, though.

During this pandemic, I encounter several such scenarios on a daily basis. When well-meaning people are involved, it isn’t difficult to point out that the objective and the solution aren’t compatible. With authoritarian or toxic people, we get bogged down into sublimely ridiculous situations, like a Seinfeld episode written by sociopaths.

This pandemic has consistently beaten into my head that adults are not in charge and the ones who make many of the decisions are winging it, often for personal gain.

Completely random and incompatible directives and rules are issued. We collectively scratch our heads, trying to figure out the objective to determine whether the rule is a 10mph speed limit sign on a 6-lane highway at noon on a summer day. Eventually, someone will insist on clarification. Inevitably, we regret it because we’ll get an inscrutable non-answer that helps no one. This leads many people to choose malicious compliance or to continue to do whatever they want to.

Years ago, someone hit me with the riddle of “How long is a rope?”

Given no more information, I surrendered and said insufficient information was provided.

I knew it was going to be a trick answer. The smug look of victory on the guy’s face asking me was evidence of it.

“It’s twice the length from the middle,” he replied. “Gotcha!” He proclaimed.

“Does a fart smell or stink?” I asked him, as I walked away. Because I gave him the same condescending and smug look as he gave me, the question tortured him for a day.

Which leads me to the look of confusion on an expert’s face today. He gave me a stupid non-answer. I immediately reverted to my tried-and-true, “Does a fart smell or does it stink?” I bowed and walked away.

The Be-Nice Social Media Meme Quandary

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I’m not a fan of a quick recap or drive-by. I want three shotgun blasts to the thorax, using words, just to be sure. I’m obligated to kill the “be nice, you don’t know…” meme – and bury it under an avalanche of words.

A popular meme and motivational cliché challenge us to be nice to people because we don’t know what invisible battles they’re fighting. (Maybe their anger, mistreatment, and lashing out is motivated by something else.)

Duh!

That’s true for literally everyone, each day – unless we’re surrounded by sociopaths and mean people. Most good people swallow reactions to misbehavior constantly, without comment or repayment. As an outsider, you don’t know how many times someone might have overlooked being treated rudely or mistreated. We only see the consequence and not the long hill of effort to be kind that preceded an outburst.

It’s reciprocal, though, that expectation of kindness or overlooking someone’s inexplicable mean behavior that affects you. You’re not logical if you extend the benefit of the doubt to one participant without also extending it to the other.

People secretly fighting invisible battles should stop blame-shifting honest reactions on the people who are unaware of the circumstances.

We are all jerks; luckily, we’re just jerks on differing schedules.

Reciprocate and assume that I might have a bad day, bad life, or a particular circumstance myself.

Be honest with me and I’ll probably tolerate you lighting my toes on fire.

Like all clichés and generalizations, it’s almost meaningless to ask people to assume that all misbehavior results from an unseen struggle. We’re all going to say and do stupid things, especially hurtful things that we might not have intended to be so harsh.

Most of us are around a few people who lack basic decency. They gaslight and lash out regularly, then use any of our honest reactions against us. They’re the worst. They prey and thrive on the drama.

I’m around two of the worst sociopaths I’ve ever met on a routine basis. They’re toxic, angry, and abusive. They are masters at manipulation. It’s exhausting and needless. They always have an excuse to pardon their horrendous behavior.

P.S. I know this post is potentially contradictory, accusatory, and perhaps upsetting. Maybe I’m having a bad day, though.

So do as the memes demand and give me a break.

You don’t know what’s going on in my life.

Whatever it is, though, it’s my responsibility to throttle my misbehavior, angry words, or discourteousness before asking you automatically to give me a pass. I expect the same from you. It works 99% of the time.

So, enough with the “Be nice, you never know” positivity memes. They’re vacuous and defy the complexity of human emotions and interaction.

Good people need not be told. Bad people don’t care. And sometimes, we can be both.

 

What Exactly Are They Sending You?

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I wrote the draft of this post years ago, precovid.

Years ago, I remember watching a “60 Minutes” segment and seeing a railroad car carry chemicals to one destination and then refill with apple juice, without being cleaned between fills. When I worked at a dairy, I was surprised to see that clumpy, black, clotted milk would be put in the holding tank to save money, because as long as the main tank passed inspection, it didn’t matter if someone shoveled manure into it. It’s true that pasteurization awaited the milk.

To frame it another way, though, you likely wouldn’t eat a bowl of ice cream if you knew it had 1% manure in it, no matter how safe it might be to eat.

I saw other things which were more troublesome while working in the poultry industry, which is plagued by food-borne illnesses and contaminants, even though they constantly assure us that every conceivable measure is being taken to ensure a safe food supply, even as they speed up processes, reduce costs and USDA inspectors, and reduce human intervention. If human beings are involved and profit is a primary consideration, it is no stretch to imagine all possible scenarios where corners might be cut. People inevitably cut corners, especially people who are pressured into working faster, with fewer people, and whose profit margin shrinks as they take the time to do their job more safely.

PSA: You’ve all seen the delivery drivers throw packages in and out of their trucks, across fences, or into swimming pools. If you haven’t witnessed it personally, the internet has probably shown you a few examples of packages being tossed like beanbags all through the delivery process. Even when they don’t throw or mishandle packages, they are constantly falling over, rolling, or upended during handling and transport.

I won’t mention any companies by name, of course, but some bring you clothes, electronics, food, and toys for your children. It’s convenient.

You don’t think twice about it, I’m sure.

Without being specific, a huge range of things is shipped by carriers. They can send diagnostic samples, clinical samples, blood, human tissue, and about a 1,000 other things you’ve never thought about. I’m surprised how many people assume that such things are segregated on other carriers or trucks. They are not. Also, it’s important that people know that the classification systems used to determine what can be shipped are a little dubious. Some items are recycled medical devices which are treated as highly infectious inside their point-of-use, yet are packaged and transported on the same trucks as your personal items.

The same drivers you see throwing packaged from across the yard are often the drivers transporting the things I’ve mentioned.

Whether they are hazardous or not is at times subject to opinion. Many times, no one knows what is inside the boxes. Even if they do know, speed demands that the packages be handled quickly, not carefully. The packaging is at the whim and mercy of anyone who took the time to ensure it was sealed properly or not. Anything in the distribution chain, however, is subject to the same treatment that you’ve watched on YouTube videos. You can Google the issue for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what can be sent on the same vehicles as your children’s toys, clothes, and food items.

It’s a small leap in logic to assume that these unmarked packages sometimes containing hazardous materials spill, going out onto your food packages, baby toys, or laptops. You then touch them without ever realizing that they have been exposed to waste products.

Many delivery and shipping companies use contractors. These contractors control their own processes, pay for their own vehicles, and so on while using the logos of the respective companies. Speed and efficiency are prized factors at every step of the delivery process. If you didn’t know, many drivers often resort to urinating in containers in their vehicles, no matter whose packages they are handling. Think about it the next time a driver hands you a scanner to sign your name.

Although I have not expressed my point very well, it can be summed up this way: if you receive anything shipped, you should assume that careless people handled the items and that anything you receive might have been contaminated accidentally or negligently at any point in the process. Further, reducing costs tends to drive what processes and training are in place to protect us.

Those videos of drivers throwing your packages are simply the visible consequence of our poorly-managed distribution system.

 

A Sign Your Boss or Job Sucks

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Do you want to know a sure sign you work somewhere where either the organization is terrible – or the boss is?

If they want to limit discussion to only your reaction, rather than the actions, words, or circumstances which triggered you, it’s a poor organization. Even people accused of murder have the opportunity to detail the timeline of events that preceded the alleged crime.

People are complex. Most people rarely flame out or over-react.

If your boss fails to listen, regardless of how ‘busy’ he or she is, it is likely the job or boss sucks. If it becomes a pattern, it is a certainty.

If your boss vocalizes the idea or emails any insinuation that your concerns are trivial, you work for a poor boss.

If someone uncharacteristically lashes out, you need to stop and examine what happened – as if human beings are involved. Forget the check-boxes and paint-by-the-numbers nonsense that HR insists that you use. Good HR representatives are compassionate, but it’s vital to remember that their primary responsibility is toward the company, which by definition is impersonal.

Good people don’t lash out or lose their sh#t unless they’ve been ignored.

In the last few years, most of us have witnessed the role of HR diminish from watchdog to whitewash. As organizations silo their areas, poor managers tend to become worse managers – and without anyone properly keeping an eye on them.

So many of us tolerate stress, mismanagement, misbehavior, or other cumulative craziness without a comment. Without warning, the valve blows and we react.

The boss rarely understands that we might be around a toxic employee or drama llama, or that employees are expected to do too much or tolerate behavior that would never be forgiven outside of work. Because businesses are running leaner or management is less well-trained than previously, the issues tend to flame out with greater consequence.

I see this becoming a worse problem as managers focus on metrics and impersonal considerations ahead of our humanity. As we emerge into a postcovid workforce, I predict that there’s going to be a great deal of backlash with this, even though many workers will continue to work from home.

When managers shift to priority management, especially during a crisis, people have fewer ways to vent their grievances. Despite the fact that most bosses grow to despise this part of their job, it’s actually more important than ever that they grin and bear it as they listen to their subordinates. Even if they don’t appreciate the alleged severity of the issues, failing to provide a release valve will hurt everyone. Pressure always leaks out of the organization. Whether it leaks out harmfully depends on the individual who is being ignored.

While it is simply my opinion, I think organizations need to stop leaning toward efficiency. Most people do their jobs well without micromanagement. The human component, the part needing attention, is suffering now more than ever. I see it in real-time.

I know the agony bosses suffer when they listen to a lot of complaining. It works precisely like a marriage, though. If you stop listening, you’re going to find your stuff piled in a flaming heap in the driveway.

Besides, in my experience, the terrible bosses who do this sort of thing are the worst when someone does the same to them. They will destroy the entire business if necessary if they are judged in a vacuum and without being afforded the opportunity to explain why they lost their sh#t.

 

Let’s Trade

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I see so many social media posts from people advocating that young people choose a trade over college. These types of posts seem to be multiplying. It’s rare to see such a post from a young person, however. The memes annoy me a little, though, if it’s okay for me to say so.

Because I watch with a keen eye when my instincts get stirred, I turn my attention to note how much of people’s enthusiasm for a trade translates to their children or grandchildren. Whether it is my jaundiced eye or a convenient conclusion, my observations tell me that college is almost always the preferred ideal over learning a trade. Likewise, most parents don’t enthusiastically endorse the option of the military, either, even though it often provides multiple benefits for the person willing to choose it.

Ideology in the abstract is a strange, contradictory thing.

Why not both? Educated minds are to everyone’s benefit. What’s wrong with a plumber, electrician, or mechanic with a college degree? The odds we’re going to change careers several times increases with each generation.

A shadowy truth embedded in this conversation is that most people want careers that do not tax their bodies – and they wish the same for their children. It’s not a revelation of laziness. For some, it is a belief rooted in class distinction. For most, it’s merely reasonable.

It’s not denigrating to tradespeople to say that you’d like a job using your mental ability rather than your hands and back. Most technical trades take a toll on one’s body. Combined with long hours, a competent tradesperson is much more likely to harm his or her ability to do such a job well for their entire career. No one disputes that many people make an outstanding salary by choosing a trade.

Imagine a society in which 17 years of education is ‘free,’ rather than 13. How many would choose a trade if their educational path were open and guaranteed? How many parents would encourage them to select a trade instead of college? How many would embrace the option of the military?

I get that you agree it is a worthy choice to learn a trade instead of college.

First, though, let’s give everyone a democratic chance for college by making it universal for everyone. Afterward, we’ll see how many parents jump with joy when their children or grandchildren choose a trade instead of college. Or, let’s encourage everyone to do both. Getting an education won’t make you unable to learn a trade. You’ll still have the education – but more options once you’re finished.

I realize that there is an inherent imperfection in my argument. I’m not proposing an airtight, elegant solution – just a request that you think about the issue logically.

Our path toward college and careers itself is flawed.

As well as our thinking regarding the issue.
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Kvetch-22, Work Edition

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Last Friday, management put us in an impossible situation. It was a Kvetch-22. The details don’t really matter. It’s no secret that many people work in environments in which our humanity is an inconvenience.

Someone I work with got really angry and lashed out. I did what I do best and creatively turned it around on him. Because he’s a hothead, you can imagine how it escalated. Later, when I realized that he had fallen victim to being blind to how he had been manipulated by the circumstances management left us with, I reached out and apologized. We both then appropriately turned our disdain on the people who created the situation rather than each other.

Today, I presented him with a surprise gift. He opened it, his eyes went wide, and then he laughed. And then laughed some more.

I had printed a color 5 x 7 picture of myself making a god-awful face and smiling. In Spanish, I wrote: “With Love, From The World’s #1 A÷÷hole, X.”

Somehow, I don’t think he will ever forget my apology on Friday or the ridiculous follow-up today. Plus, he now has a beautiful picture of me, one suitable for a dartboard, the bottom of a urinal, or framing to put above his imaginary fireplace at home.
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