February 23, 2012

Work Ethic

Note: These are noodlings for a series of essays I have been thinking about writing but may never get around to. My own private slush pile.

We are a composite of the self-images we have of ourselves in the various roles we play in life. At work we see ourselves as workers, supervisors, managers, or leaders.  For the sake of argument, I define a worker as one who is directed to do certain tasks. The supervisor is responsible for giving those directions and seeing to it that they are carried out. Managers decide what those activities will be and how they will be done. Leaders ... well, they make you want to push that big rock up the steep hill.

The key point I would like to make here is that what we see when we look at the mirror of our souls may not be the actual job we hold. How many times have you had a supervisor who wants to do everything himself? How many times have you had a manager who spends most of his time supervisor and not enough time managing? How many times have you ever worked with or for a leader?

 These mismatches between self-image and actual responsibilities are commonplace. The reason they are common is that change ain't easy. We reach a comfort level and are reluctant to leave it. And most workplaces exacerbate the problem by rewarding advancement more highly than consistent, reliable, long-term service at a particular level. 

You want to get ahead? Then you have to move up the ladder. Management sets the rules, and the first rule is that they are more valuable than anyone else. From there, the shit just rolls down hill. So if you have people who are great at what they do and are making a solid contribution, instead of keeping them where they are and rewarding them for their hard work, they have only one option if they want to make significantly more money, which is to accept a role they don't see themselves as belonging in.

That's a recipe for a lot of unhappy workers and supervisors and managers. It's a heckuva way to run a railroad, if you ask me.

February 21, 2012

Sanctum Santorum

Is Rick Santorum running for the job of defender of the faith or commander in chief? It's hard to tell the difference these days, at least judging by his stump speeches. Give him credit; Santorum is letting his freak flag fly and is showing the American people who he really is, and it ain't pretty, at least if you believe that the separation of church and state is vital to preserving religious freedom, a theory that worked for the Founding Fathers but not so much for Santorum. And make no mistake about it, if he gets elected he will do everything and anything to impose his views on the rest of us.

And what exactly are those views? Pretty much whatever the Catholic Church says they are. And get this. Obama wants to impose policies that run contrary to official Catholic Church doctrines. Gasp! Well, what would you expect from a crpyto-Muslim like Obama, eh? Wink, wink.

Santorum assures us that he has voted differently than he believes on issues such as contraception and birth control, which, if you stop and think about it, has to make you wonder what the hell that implies about the internal dialogue inside his head. But come on, do you honestly believe that Santorum won't blur the line between his own private beliefs and his public policy choices if he gets into the White House?

We haven't seen such blatant rhetoric about the role of religion in politics since JFK had to confont the issue back during his run for the presidency. Of course, back then people were asking the question a different way. Would Kennedy be independent of the Pope or would he follow secret marching orders from Rome?

Kennedy's answer was an emphatic "No!" Santorum seems to be taking a different tack. In his heart you know he's Catholic.  Well, Mr. Santorum, I remember Kennedy, and you are no Jack Kennedy.

February 16, 2012

In Your Dreams

I woke up this morning with the images of a very powerful dream resonating in my head. I was walking with two other men along a stretch of empty highway. We came across a man lying on the ground. We stopped and looked at him and then continued on. A few moments later, one of the men I was walking with was attacked by the man who had been lying on the ground. My companion delivered several defensive blows and knocked the attacker to the ground. We continued on. The man got up again, and this time he came after me and started kicking and trying to bite me. I awoke to the image of a distended jaw with teeth snapping viciously in the air.

As we would say these days, "WTF?" I have no idea what that was about, but it left enough of an impression to get me doing a little Googling on dreams. Theories of dreams abound, but there does not seem to be any settled consensus on the types, purpose, or mechanics of dreaming. I have always had vivid dreams ever since I can remember, and I have never really understood their source or their meaning. Turns out nobody else does either.

I came across an article written by Gayle Greene PhD. In it she says that there is a lot of research on sleep—she regularly attends the annual meetings of the Associated Professional Sleep Society (who knew?)—but not so much about dreams. One thing she said really caught my interest. She referred to a study by P.F. Pagel, University of Colorado Medical School, that "found a much higher recall and use of dreams among actors, writers, and directors" than among other participants.

Writing is an intensely visual process, at least it is for me. When I am really into it, I watch the scene unfold in my mind's eye like a black-and-white movie on TV. Then I put what I see into words, trying to recreate the rhythm and feel of that visualization of the scene. Basically, I'm walking around a good chunk of the day in a semi-dream phase as I let the ruminations of my subconscious brain bubble up to the surface.

So it makes sense to me that writers and other creative people would remember their dreams with greater recall. I think of it as a positive feedback loop. You spend all your waking hours day-dreaming about plots and characters and scenes. Sleep dreams are a natural extension of that process, so it makes sense that the line between the two would be closer among creative people, who are halfway in the dreaming world most of the time.

Anyway, it's a theory.

February 12, 2012

Three Days

Years ago, I heard a psychologist give a simple trick to figure out basic personality types. Ask someone what time it is. If they answer, "10:47" that indicates a detail-oriented mind that likes order and structure. If they answer, "Around a quarter to eleven" that indicates a big picture person who is unconcerned with details. Put the two together in a work situation and it could get ugly.

Here's my own little mind game. I'll ask a very simple question. The only answer that counts is the one that pops into your head before you've even finished reading the question. Ready? Okay, here we go.
There are only three days in your life: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Which of these is the most important?
So what was your answer? It's not so much that there is a right or wrong answer, but I do believe that whatever answer a person instinctively chooses is revealing. I chose today; I want to live on the knife edge of the present. Others will choose differently. Some prefer to linger in the past, while others can't wait to get to the next big thing.

As I said, none of the answers is right or wrong, but when you mix and match them in different situations the results could be ... interesting. Something to think about.

February 6, 2012

On Growing Older

Back when I was writing a blog called Every Man A Giant, one of my first essays was called "Dharma Bummer." I was into writing pieces of 100 words or less back then, so here it is in its entirety:
To prevent fraying in a rope, the ends are often wrapped around with cording. To prevent fraying in DNA, the strands are capped with long sequences of non-functioning DNA called telomeres.

Eventually any rope frays, and so does DNA. Each replication shortens the telomeres until the cell can no longer replicate itself. This is what keeps cells from turning cancerous before we can have kids. It also keeps us from living forever.

God moves in mysterious ways.
I am the emergent property—the sum total and more—of billions of cells replicating and repairing themselves countless times a day. With each transaction, there is a little less of me: a molecule here, a cell there ... lost in the shuffle. Along with my telomeres, I am fraying around the edges. I feel the cumulative impact of all those individual events registering on the organism as a whole.

Like Frost's traveler on a snowy night, I too have miles to go, I hope, before I sleep. I am reconciled to the things that will be inevitably left undone, but I am trying my best to finish strong. I can live with that.

February 2, 2012

East Is East

I've been reading By Desert Ways to Baghdad and Damascus, written by Louisa Jebb Wilkins, published in 1908. Two Victorian women set out by horseback and raft to trek from Turkey to Baghdad and beyond. This isn't a book review, although I would cheerfully recommend it to anyone. I just wanted to share this quote from the book, a quote that is as relevant today as it was back at the turn of an earlier century:
There is only one way to live in the East, and that is to accept it. Its ways are stronger than your ways, especially when you come out freshly armed with the ardour of the West. Your best reasoning is worsted by gracious irrelevancy; your protesting attacks turned by acquiescing politeness; and the East moves on its smiling, unalterable way.
Think about that in the coming days as talk of withdrawal from Afghanistan and the possible return of the Taliban becomes Sunday morning talk show fodder. This was a great lesson of Vietnam and many other failed expeditions into distant lands, a lesson learned and then forgotten, as it always is. The locals can wait you out, because they know that sooner or later you will leave, at which point they will move on in their smiling, unalterable way.