The Weekly Vent: Is Honesty for Suckers?

I have a love-hate relationship with The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature. I know the whole point is to present, in brief, conflicting points of view. It just riles me up. And this past week’s topic REALLY riled me up. “Is Honesty for Suckers?” . I think in our culture, at this time, it probably is. But that doesn’t mean I plan to become dishonest or I envy those who are. It just means I have resigned myself to foregoing some of the rewards that I have seen dishonest people reap for years. And I’m okay with that, as I am very fortunate in many ways, and I’d rather be myself (and live with myself) than go through life the way they do: rushing to grab every advantage, making and dropping “friends” along the way, unable to sustain loving, real relationships (funny how many of these folks seem to have dysfunctional personal lives). If that makes me a sucker, so be it. Honestly.

The Weekly Vent: The Rationality of Rage

Well, well, well — it turns out that a certain amount of rage, in specific situations, is strategically useful. Rational, in fact, according to The New York Times: The Rationality of Rage.

We tend to associate anger with the loss of control, but anger has clear applications and obeys distinct rules. It may be blunt, but it has its own particular logic. And used judiciously, it can get us better deals, galvanize coalitions and improve all our lives.

The situations where anger is most useful as a strategy are “balanced”, i.e. they have elements of both cooperation and competition, such as selling a business to a buyer. Makes sense to me but I’m not so sure about this part:

… anger evolved to help us express that we feel undervalued. Showing anger signals to others that if we don’t get our due, we’ll exert harm or withhold benefits. As they anticipated, the researchers found that strong men and attractive women — those who have historically had the most leverage in threatening harm and conferring benefits, respectively — were most prone to anger.

Wow. Strong men and attractive women have the most leverage because they can threaten harm and withhold benefits. Sounds like war, money and sex to me. I guess we really are still primates at heart!

Illustration: Gerard DuBois, in The New York Times.

The Weekly Vent?

This week I am chortling, not screaming, at my new middle-aged heroes: Hilarious Parents Re-Create Daughter’s Sexy Selfies With Boyfriend. I love these people! What a way to make their point with a sense of humor!

Selfies. What a concept. And yes, it does irritate me when I find that one of the several teenagers who live here has taken numerous silly selfies on my unattended iPhone. Though if I REALLY minded that much, I would just post them on their Facebook pages for all the world to see. Hmmm …

Illustration: Mark Knight, Herald Sun, 6 September 2013

“Raging As My Sister’s Light Dims”

Sara Lukinson has written an extraordinary piece in today’s New York Times, about her relationship with her terminally ill sister and her role as caregiver while her sister is dying.

“What can I do?” I ask feebly. “Be patient,” she says. And I want to hide my inner impatience with shame. Because for decades, I’ve bristled at her edge-of-fear look, that hesitancy before taking a step. Only now it’s longer and deeper. Watching it seize her makes me feel I’m being sucked out of the sky. Her life had become a full-time managing of her disease, hiding the next turn in the road.

But until death is in the room, it’s easier than you’d think to revert to lifelong habits of instant annoyances, petty bickering.

A turn of her head, a certain faraway look, and I could forget she’s sick and get mad at her. I yelled at her not long ago over some important tax forms, I can’t remember anymore why. Horrible me.

Raging As My Sister’s Light Dims

Ms. Lukinson goes on to write:

Sitting with her I am calm and furious, loving and angry, knowing what a gift it is to have such a sister. Wretched to be forced, again, into the slavery of disease. Of having to serve it, and bow to it. I want to escape and be in the light of life. Then, I feel gutted and guilty for wanting to flee.

But here is how her essay concludes:

Now, as the breath of life ebbs away, I keep close to her side. She has never seemed braver or more beautiful to me. Still herself, still my sister.

Extraordinary. Both sisters.

Image: Jon Han, The New York Times

The Weekly Vent: More On Toxic Workplaces

Surprise! Stressful work environments have a measurable negative impact on employees’ health and mortality, as set forth by The New York Times: How Stressful Work Environments Hurt Workers’ Health.

Among the findings:

• Work-family conflict more than doubled the odds of an employee reporting poor mental health and increased the odds of self-reported poor physical health by about 90 percent.
• Job insecurity raised the odds of self-reported poor physical health by about 50 percent.
• Low organizational justice increased the odds of having a physician-diagnosed condition by about 50 percent.
• High job demands raised the odds of a physician-diagnosed illness by 35 percent.
• Long work hours increased mortality by nearly 20 percent.

In addition, unemployment and low job control significantly upped the odds of all of the outcomes, while adverse psycho-social situations at work – lack of fairness, low social support and low job control – were as strongly associated with poor health as concrete factors like long hours and shift work.

Continue reading

The Weekly Vent: Midweek Retreat

Usually I save my weekly vents until the weekend, when I can process the outrages of the previous seven days, including an entire work week. However, this week merits its very own, special, midweek Weekly Vent. Yes, today was my office’s semi-regular, offsite, daylong, management retreat.  Shoot me now.

I like my job. Just spare me the management retreat and let me DO my job. Trapped in a room for seven straight hours. The platitudes. The hypocrisy. The blatant falsehoods. The false friendliness. The colleagues texting and reading email while their unfortunate peers make forced presentations. The plans that will gather dust until the next offsite retreat. The collecting of ammunition to be used later to stab rivals colleagues in the back. Here’s why they call these “retreats” — because work has become a battlefield, if not a war of attrition. Only Dilbert can adequately express the pain.

Cartoon: copyright Scott Adams

The Weekly Vent: Up The Creek In A Toxic Workplace

I thought my own workplace was pretty dysfunctional and toxic — and some days it really is. Then I read today about what it’s like to work at Amazon: Inside Amazon.  Here’s one passage:

“Ms. Willet’s co-workers strafed her through the Anytime Feedback Tool, the widget in the company directory that allows employees to send praise or criticism about colleagues to management. (While bosses know who sends the comments, their identities are not typically shared with the subjects of the remarks.) Because team members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year, it is in everyone’s interest to outperform everyone else.

Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, said the tool was just another way to provide feedback, like sending an email or walking into a manager’s office. Most comments, he said, are positive.

However, many workers called it a river of intrigue and scheming. They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly. Many others, along with Ms. Willet, described feeling sabotaged by negative comments from unidentified colleagues with whom they could not argue.”

This is the Lord of the Flies, but at work, in real life, with people’s careers and livelihoods at stake. How many guesses as to who mostly gets sabotaged by colleagues who gang up on them through anonymous feedback? I’m betting they are mostly non-white, non-straight, non-males. The longer I work in organizations, the more I realize how many men are truly socialized to form gangs that then exclude or drive off others. You’re part of the in-crowd — or you’re completely out. It has nothing to do with the good of the organization, or the quality of your work, it’s all about the in-gang grabbing power and wealth for itself. Ugh. And why do the managers believe the comments that are made? Do they even look into them, or hold accountable workers who lie?

The rest of the article describes workers who never take a day off; answer emails all night; are pushed out when they have health or family issues; feel they cannot spend time with their families. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is one of the richest men on the planet, with a stay-at-home author wife and four children. I used to think he was brilliant. Now I think he’s a sociopath. And he’s trying to export his way of doing business to other workplaces, claiming that his way is the model of the future. I was glad to read several comments by recruiters for other companies who say they won’t hire anyone who has been at Amazon long enough to have been brainwashed into thinking this is the right way to interact at work.

I am shaking my head. This seems like the ultimate example of treating human beings like cogs in a machine. I will never willingly or knowingly work for such a cruel organization. I am seriously considering where I can cut back my purchases from Amazon. Bezos’ way seems to work well to enrich him beyond even the wildest plutocratic dreams. What is it doing for anyone else? Why do the rest of us put up with these Gilded Age antics? Why do we send our children to fight these plutocrats’ wars and protect their wealth? Why do we allow the schools, transportation systems, public services, lands and facilities we all need and use to fall into disrepair, while these greedy lunatics manipulate our financial systems and hog more and more of our productivity? Why?


This week, the New York Times reported that in a sharp reversal, school districts are now scrambling to fill teacher positions after several years of issuing pink slips to teachers: Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble. In fact, they are so desperate to hire teachers that they are hiring some before they have even graduated. This is nuts! I have relatives who are teachers. They are skilled professionals, with years of expensive education including master’s degrees in specialties like information technology in education, as well as experience. One works for a private school, one worked for a public school.

The one who works for a private school has been able to have a long, well-developed career with steady advancement and reasonable job security. The one who worked for a public school system did have tenure, but her job was constantly under threat from incompetent principals and superintendents, the threat of reorganizations that would have eliminated her position, the constant cost-cutting. She finally couldn’t take it any more; she and many other seasoned teacher colleagues have retired in the last two years. She herself was snapped up to do contract work by a mentor at the state department of education, who knows her talent and skill set. Her work with teachers and students in that role has restored her love of teaching and education, now that she is away from the relentless politics of the local public school district.

This makes me crazy. When will this country stop whipsawing schools, teachers and schoolchildren back and forth? It’s impossible for professionals to plan for a skilled career when their job prospects look like a rollercoaster. It’s impossible for the best professionals to do good work in an environment of shifting alliances, inadequate resources and permanent job insecurity.  Public schools deserve better, and so do the huge majority of American children who depend on them for their education. Periodic “nationwide hiring scrambles” are not the answer.

The Weekly Vent

Where to begin? This past week’s GOP debate presents a target-rich environment, but so do the wafflings among the Democrats seeking the Presidency. Can’t we get some sensible, mature thoughts on the most pressing policy needs ahead, including long-term goals for our country? Hellooooo? I’m starting to feel like John Adams in the musical “1776.” Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?

Well, some people do. Here’s a selection of the past week’s Editorial Cartoons of the Week. They kind of sum it all up, don’t they? Except right now, I’m not laughing. I’m starting to get mad. Because this is serious, folks. I have kids who have to live in the world we’re creating.