Thursday, May 7, 2020

#82 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Too Tall Poppies and other disposables)



Let’s take a look at some of the ways/situations/encounters/exchanges in/by which men sabotage other men! We have spent considerable time looking at how individual men self-sabotage. Yet perhaps the depth and persistence of conflict/competition and the underlying psychic “soil” from which these situations grow and develop, while not open to excavation, or certainly elimination from the hard wiring, warrants a deeper and more exhaustive look.

Men sabotage other men directly and indirectly, in different ways.

On the “direct” front, a rather recent model, originating from Australia, has been termed the “Too Tall Poppy Syndrome.” Premised on the concept that all poppies (workers) should grow to the same height, this syndrome finds anyone who is working above and beyond the minimum/modest/moderate level in an employment situation, is attacked, in what many would argue is an blatant attempt to “bring him/her down” to the level of the ordinary workers’ performance. We have all witnessed this dynamic under a variety of rationales, some example of which include:

·        He/She is just sucking up to the boss by demonstrating excessive energy and ambition and creativity
·        He/She is working to impress for a superlative reference in the process of seeking that promotion
·        He/She is what in some contemporary North American workplace cultures just being another of those FNG’s (----ing New Guys) who is, like that new broom trying inordinately hard to make a first impression
·        He/She is demonstrating a new operating procedure taught to all new recruits, that just ridicules the way we have been doing things for centuries (even if the new methods are designed to protect workers from injury)
·        He/She thinks she knows everything and wants to show everyone around here up
·        He/She came here from the big city where they all think they know it all, and wants to ‘convert’ everyone to their sophisticated level
·        He/She is a grad of “X” school where they all believe they own the world, and the boss likely believes his/her ‘brand’ will improve the prospects for investor participation
·        He/She is from country “x” or “y” known as (here fill in the most superficial, reductionistic stereotype of that country) and we all know how they operate
·        He/She just arrived in this country, and needs to spend a few years proving him/herself, before attempting to exert any influence, even if that influence sis healthy for the enterprise
·        He/She comes with a high recommendation from a personal friend of the boss, and that is enough to delay, block, preclude his/her successful entry here

Debilitating and undermining activity is costing billions both in lost revenue and lost opportunity to cut costs not to mention the wounds such activity inflicts on the psyches/emotions/aspirations/confidence and potential loyalty of the target worker. And the only “reward” is the personal “self-aggrandizement” of the perpetrator, and that in itself is another of the faux-rewards many seem ready willing and able to fall for. The polar alternative, of gushing supportive and potentially condescending words over a co-worker is, equally, despicable. As in so many other facets of public discourse, there has been a growing trend of binary options as the only two available for the average person.

The poverty, not only of generosity and objective mentoring, but of the plenitude of approaches from one worker to a colleague, comes from a dry desert of expectations about how we are expected to treat each other in our  workplaces, and even in our homes. Is it our imaginations that have been starved of examples of empathy, help and support? Or are we so insecure, generally, that, in order to strengthen our sense of ourselves, we have to bring another down. Are we frightened of being “ostracized” by co-workers if we befriend a new worker, or especially a worker from a different ethnicity, culture, language or faith? Are we needing to ‘fit in’ with those workers currently working alongside us that what is a new person, idea, suggestion, process, strategy, tactic, especially if it comes from one of those “tall poppies,” that we easily and glibly and predictably dismiss, disdain, undermine, sabotage both the person and the idea?

There is a perhaps infrequently paradox in the act of saying “No” (in any of the millions of ways and circumstances we say it out loud or silently). When we say  “No” to another, we are in truth, also saying “No” to ourselves. That paradox may not be easy to digest, to assimilate and to accept.

Nevertheless, think about it! We see something, hear something, learn something that strikes us as “irritating” or off-putting, insulting, demeaning, presuming, assuming and often based entirely on a rumour which is, itself, based on another bit of gossip. And when that ‘something’ has a name and a face to which it can be easily attached, then that person, in our cast of acceptable characters, drops a peg or two, perhaps even consciously or unconsciously we push that person off the dock of our “associates” list. And in the course of our own process of alienating the other, we, in fact, eliminate ourselves from the potential to heal the rift, shed light on the partial, and potentially damaging “something” and ‘move forward’ as the counsellors keep telling us we all need to do.

This is not to argue that men, more than women, are demonstrating what a Russian professor of Comparative Education, at the University of Ottawa, ridiculed as the Russian method of solving problems: eliminate it. It is to concur with that wise and unforgettable professor (Dr. Ramunas) that elimination is a highly preferred method of considering, assessing and disposing of a problem, especially a personnel problem. After all, in a masculine mind set, the “task” take precedence over the “person” and the “person” is more susceptible to judgement than any of the other “resources” in any plan, given that a person is both likely to “screw up” (given our own experience of screwing up and projecting that potential onto all others), is right in our face and is potentially unlikely to change whatever it is/was that set us off in the first place.

Human nature, that most complex, mysterious, fascinating and perplexing of creatures, is both the most significant and the most costly resource in the corporate/organizational/social/political panel of instruments/influences. And, the cost of ensuring the predictable, dependable, profitable performance of the process (no matter the theatre), through human labour is considered the “highest” and most easily disposed cost item in the budget. Every single male (and female) in a position of executive responsibility has weaknesses, vulnerabilities, a past, and a highly polished and perfected sheen on the Mask s/he has created to “pass muster” in the long litany of interviews, drinks, papers, theses, projects, teams and achievements that litter his/her biography.

And each of those leaders has a clear picture of the kind of person s/he has found it both comfortable and smooth to work with, as well as a cast of characters who have been troublesome, conflicted, or as we now euphemistically put it, “high maintenance.” (Men especially use this term to describe a ‘high maintenance spouse” whose intricate eccentricities he will also often admire and smile in recounting.)

“High maintenance” workers, like magnets, attract such descriptives as “hard to manage,” “threatening to power,” or “narcissistic and unmanageable,” and as soon as signs poke through the ashphalt of the CEO/corporate culture’s consciousness, those in the inner circle begin to take note. This worker is not fitting into our culture. S/He is not learning how we do things here. This worker is one we will have to watch carefully, and potentially find a way to usher him/her out.

Executives have a myriad of creative, if manipulative, road maps for completing the divorce, including such demonic approaches as, “Do you think he will leave if we load his plate so high that he simply cannot accomplish the job?” Another favourite, “S/he seems very friendly with one of our favourite (men or women) and that friendliness is dangerous, if not grounds for beginning a file because we will need evidence when we dismiss.” Perhaps, if neither of these would prove useful, we might find another tact: “Things have gone missing in the office/back shop/supply room/ and it seems to happen coincident with the appearance of this person in that area; we need to take note!”

Oh, I can hear the cries of “Why are you so contemptuous of quality control? After all, all businesses, corporations, and organizations depend on a smooth running of the operation, as designed by the originators, and our history has always honoured both their persons and their ingenuity. We have found that we function more effectively (and more profitably) with those who conform to our expectations, without acting like a burr in our shoe. And when we find those counter-productive and counter-intuitive to our culture, we simply have to eliminate them.

This will not suffice as an academic treatise on workplace tensions. It is, rather, based on a litany of experiences, both personal, and reported, from a rather extensive working life, spanning seven decades, and literally dozens of supervisors. From a grocery clerk, to civil servant, to salesman, to beer store clerk, to teacher, coach, vice-principal, assistant department head, student, intern, chaplain in training, counsellor trainee, entrepreneur, clergy, mailman, and project manager, many male and female co-workers and supervisors have crossed paths.

And, if there is a single observation about people in positions of power and responsibility, from my experience, that merits reflection, it is that most, if not all, are highly attuned to their “polling” (whether formal or more importantly informal). If individuals who seem to ‘count’ among the working staff, take issue with the executive, that is a warning sign. If workers who are known to be both diligent and committed take exception to decisions of the “top,” that too is a signal of warning. If a new idea is proposed, depending on the proposer’s reputation (and not on the merit of the proposal) the idea is either investigated or dropped like a nuclear device.

Preserving one’s position/power/legacy/reputation, by the chief executive, is the primary objective of those in power. (Of course, it will be argued that if that edifice begins to crumble, there will be inevitable damage to the institution!) Nevertheless, the status, income, power and impunity with which most Chief executives currently operate is so far removed, and so highly remunerated, as to warrant a severe dart in that balloon. We have become a culture of single-operator tyrants, in a culture in which their circle incestuously and gratuitously genuflects at that altar of executive power. And, once again, males are predominantly responsible for this development, along with the concomitant development of eviscerating worker rights of both safety and compensation.

And the most recent pandemic continues to document for all to see, the almost unbelieveable divide in danger/safety as well as in income/influence. Those our culture/society/economy/ most needs are those most seriously and negatively impacted by COVID-19. Those in power, (with exceptions) too often incarnate contempt for those on whom the health of everyone depends, shown by withholding protective equipment, and/or failing to resource needed ventilators.

It may well be time for the economy to be overturned, with a profound recognition, both in attitude and in corresponding policy and law, that vacuums the inflation from the perks and the investment options, the power and the single-and-unquestioned power and authority of an individual executive. The voices of all of those “tall poppies” who do not precisely “fit” into the corporate culture are needed now more than at anytime in my lifetime.

And this is one space where tall poppies will find embrace, support, welcome and encouragement. They may find opportunities for seizing the ‘whistleblower’ megaphone; they may find opportunities to expose the alcoholism of their chief executives in favour of time out for treatment and no longer a protracted denial and cove-up; they may find voice and alliances for other, especially men, who no longer are willing to be assassinated through rumour, innuendo, or especially political opponents.

 And, just yesterday, the world learned that the strategists of the upcoming campaign of the current occupant of the Oval Office have brashly announced that their prime goal and modus operandi will be to “assassinate” the character of the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.

Hate speech has long since fallen by the wayside as a determinant of civility. So has truth fallen as a measure of value and integrity. So too has the quality of one’s policy proposals drifted into the floor of the polluted ocean of public opinion, like so much detritus, plastic, and garbage.

We are left with a minimalist, pre-adolescent, immature, indefensible and unsustainable prospect of a presidential campaign unworthy even of the name. And, once again, men are at the forefront of the kind of battle we will be offered.
Other men, (there have to be more than those members of the Lincoln Project, former Republican, non-trumpers) who see the world in ways similar to the perception from the north shore of the St. Lawrence river, just across the bridge from New York State, where the current governor is offering a humane, intelligent, compassionate and also non-eliminating, non-reducing masculine voice to the effort to mitigate the heinous and lethal plague, COVID-19.

Is there more than a ‘mindful’ masculinity in the cultural womb awaiting the appropriate and needed mid-wives and agencies to give it birth? It says here that a healthy masculinity, for which we all work and pray, will come more likely from men telling our stories, than from prescriptions of processes and attitudes and behaviours.

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