Monday, July 30, 2012

In Memorian to "Mark"

This is going to hurt, both to write and to read.
It is going to make a lot of people quite angry, upset and potentially dismissive of what they read.
Nevertheless, it has to be said.
Having just returned from the death of a forty-seven-year-old family member to the devastation of cancer, in spite of some of the best treatment facilities (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York City), and some of the best medical doctors in the world, I am struck by the overwhelming sensation that the western world is effectively killing too many highly talented, highly educated and extremely highly productive of our people, through both conscious and unconscious attitudes and behaviours that lead to boredom, repression, under-utilization and under-deployment.
It is a cliche in the business world that "workers will only use about 20% of everything they have learned in their education, while doing their job." It is also very well known that the corporate world depends on employee dedication and loyalty to the "brand" which includes the products or services from which the company generates its profits, as well as loyalty to the corporate culture. It is also well documented that up to 90% of all new executives fail in their new positions within the first 90 days of assuming the position, mainly because they either did not learn, or did to comply with the corporate expectations, which include among many things:
  • fitting into the "way we do things here"
  • not creating any waves about innovation for at least the first five years
  • not finding new insights about how to improve the corporate, or branch, or team performance at least for the first one or two years, until after everything has been learned about what is already working
  • socializing with the right people, in the right places, doing the right things that will shine a positive light on the corporation/organization/ school/ university where one is employed
  • making donations to the right charitable organizations, demonstrating leadership in volunteer positions, thereby developing the kind of confidence that university professors used to have to develop through publishing their papers, and, from all reports, still have to
  • marrying the right kind of partner who also "fits" into the corporate culture/brand/group/ethos  and "fits" extremely well into whatever groups that other spouses participate in
  • entering a team in whatever sports activity is being offered at the "office" on whatever weekend it is scheduled and participating at a level commensurate with the CEO's expectations
And when all of those often unstated, and often obscure "rules and regs" of the workplace have been fulfilled, then possibly there will be an opportunity for supervisors to ascertain what contribution can be expected....keeping in mind that no previous "leader" of the firm can ever be besmirched with a suggestion or recommendation that might overturn whatever basic principles, products or cultural contributions were established under his/her leadership.
And at home, many of the "issues of the workplace" are left at the office, so that another set of rules and regs can begin to operate, in the best interests of both the collective of the family, and the individual needs of each of its members. And, once again, it is conformity, complicity and "support" of the established patterns that is the litmus test for success, always obviously including a regular, substantial pay-cheque, so that the family can and will be rewarded for belonging, and for supporting this "bread-winner" either or both male and/or female.
And, especially for males, bright males, imaginative, creative and courageous males, these strictures bind more than they free the "person" of the worker/parent/partner/community member.
And, add to these stressors, the digital wiring of the I-Pad, I-Phone, and whatever applications may be included, attaching the individual to another set of "responsibilities" through the "social media" that, like the other criteria, demonstrate that s/he is appropriately connected to the appropriate number of friends, acquaintances, tweets, facebook messages, LinkedIn Associates and whatever other "establishment" devices and programs are considered "in" in whatever spheres of influence s/he is connected to.
Connectivity, in whatever form, is a significant criterion for belonging.
So we have conformity, fitting in, compliance with the rules and regs of office, home, charity, church and schools where children attend, learning the minor eccentricities of the significant people in all of those groups, negotiating within the networks of those various groups, and finding personal time, or "down" time, in order merely to revive...all of it contributing, ironically, to the "life" of the corporate worker.
With such an itinerary, there is little energy, scope or expectation for creativity, for challenging the status quo, for rebelling, or for eccentricitiy that is not contained in the basement electric railroad set, that might be a hobby of our harried worker. Singing in the community choir, or playing in the local orchestra, if our subject happens to have either or both a music education or talent is possibly squeezed into an evening each week, where more compliance with both the scores and the conductor/culture is expected, if not demanded.
With so much expected compliance with the "other" guidelines, and so little expectation of original thought, even though the brightest and best might be assigned to a "project" group of "advanced thinkers" within the organization, so little attention is paid to the group and its work, except when and if the corporation wishes to blow its horn in whatever "public" venue it deems appropriate, that such appointments are like "costless seduction" of the worker, who can brag about his/her selection, without actually gaining the challenge to show his/her "stuff" in intense and productive debate and discussion, not to mention the kind of learning that can come both as preparation and as "rubbing off" from other equally bright and challening members of the project groups that is possible.
And, so, both lethargy and a sense that all of "this" does not really matter much to anyone can and often does set it, leaving the individual wondering, "What's it all about, Alfie?" as the song reminds us.
Just as Arthur Miller pointed out in the 1950's in Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, the salesman archetype of the corporate world, is dying from a lack of challenge, a lack of interest from his employer who is only interested in the sales orders he once submitted and no longer submits.  Today, the same employee may not be a salesperson, although most positions require a considerable amount of "selling" of either an idea, a person or a project...and the ennui is even more exaggerated, along with the even more exaggerated number and degree of conflicting demands, expectations, rules and regs...all of them without much if any recognition for  outstanding contributions, especially given the uber-importance of the bottom line and the profit margins....at the expense of all workers at all levels.
And compliance with the 'rules and regs' is measured in nano-seconds, through invasive technology and monitoring, while an expectation of perfection pervades the whole culture and society so that each individual "expectation" has to be met at an extremely high level. We are also a non-forgiving culture of even the most minute mis-steps, at all levels of the hierarchy in the workplace.
And, in a world gone mad with money, with expectations of achievement of both social status and domestic status and employment status, and an even decreasing emphasis on who and how the individual's life is unfolding, and even often watching the company being sold, divided up and the workers' interests, needs and perspectives trashed in the process, is it any wonder that the health care budget is straining to the breaking point?
All of these people are "sick" or are getting sick, especially if they have an inkling of an injured "core self" that might not always operate at the most healthy beat of the life metronome, and especially if they suffer a devastating loss of an important employment position that denies them their "identity" (and this is especially true for men!) through which experience they fall into depression, often into abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, affairs, and other medicating escapes. Add to this equation, the biological reality that men hate doctors, hate visiting their doctors, and refuse almost categorically to identify their need for support from any health care professional.
To admit their legitimate need would be a denial of the alpha-male identity, and would rob many of them of the few shreds of dignity they are pretending to have, now that they have lost their job.
So through a combination of low expectation and low priority of the intellect, in most professional positions, high expectations of compliance with organizational demands, minimal recognition of outstanding potential and even less money and energy directed to developing those with potential, extremely high expectations on the 'home front' both for status and income, and eventually their children's education, and given the corporate world's ethic of regarding the human "component" to the profit-making process as analogous to the "raw material" used in the manufacture of the company's products, disposable if and when necessary, collectively we are participating in, and complying with the death of hundreds of thousands of the brightest and best people through their choices, sometimes of suicide, sometimes of bad choices of "medications" to dull their inordinate pain and even cancer. And all of this happens with complete impunity on the part of  those same coporations, their boards of directors and their executives, unless and until the worker dies, after being ravaged by a cancer that could easily have incubated in a body/mind/spirit plagued with boredom, ennui, lethargy, hopeless and under-deployment.
And we are all complicit in our doing and saying nothing to confront the dynamic.
Mark was, in my view, one such bored and underdeployed and under-appreciated worker by his employers, although revered by his neighbours, band-members, students, gardening colleagues, daughter and wife, and all those whose lives he enhanced, just by touching theirs.
And I weep for his loss, and for all the preventable causes of its untimely happening, and for my own silence in  not having earlier confronted our cultural disposal of such platinum human beings without a hint of responsibility or guilt.
Donations in Mark's memory can be made to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre (specify melanoma) at www.mskcc.org/giving

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