I have a friend who is in a pretty significant state-of-life quandary at the moment (and who, if I am diligent in my constant haranguing, will start a blog all her own one day) . She is extremely well-educated and experienced in a number of different areas, but, like me and a number of others I could name, is cursed with under-employment as a result of the economic downturn. Which remains a real and present issue here in Canada, despite what the Harper government might want us to believe.
As I have mentioned before, under-employment can be soul-sucking in and of itself. When you spend most of your waking life in the same place, with the same people, it would be ideal if said job was both challenging and in an environment that promotes learning and professional development of some kind. This is not remotely the situation for my friend.
To describe her work atmosphere as ‘toxic’ is to massively understate the case. As an educated, worldly and open-minded individual, she has been exposed to all kinds of different people from all kinds of different backgrounds, and views such exposure as a means of understanding her fellow human beings.
Not so her immediate supervisor. That person is, in a word, a bigot. And that person’s prejudices run the gamut of race, religion and sexual orientation. Views which that person is not afraid to vocalize. Pretty much all the time. In a place of business.
Think Archie Bunker, but without the charm and redeeming qualities.
Although my friend has repeatedly attempted to inform her superior that the voicing of such views- not to mention the views themselves- is inappropriate in a business environment and something that makes her increasingly uncomfortable, her requests have gone unheeded over the years. The opinions have, if anything, become more frequently expressed- in an attempt to goad my friend into defending her perspective on why her ‘superior’s’ attitudes are incorrect. Not out of any attempt at self-improvement or interest in changing those views- but because it has become a form of bear-baiting that the boss seems to find amusing.
My friend very much feels that she is completely without recourse at the moment. She has examined the anti-harassment rules and regulations for the Province (not to mention those for the company where she works- which she helped to draft), and has contacted someone at the Human Rights Commission, only to be told that the degree of her complaint is not great enough to warrant action or likely to achieve vindication in any real form.
Have I mentioned that she can’t just quit this job?
Despite regularly applying for positions (in this, as in other things she has my complete sympathy AND empathy) she seems to be falling through the cracks of ‘over-qualification’ for some of the positions she is looking at as a means of progressing in her chosen career direction, and being viewed as ‘not experienced enough’ for more senior positions, since much (but certainly not all) of her writing, editing and research experience stems from her work in the academic realm. She has maximized her networks, seen career counsellors, HR people, life coaches and attempted to exploit any sort of nepotism that might be in the offing.
Yet she keeps at it.
She is, by nature and by upbringing, someone who is inclined to see the best in people- ALL people- and to give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. She has attempted to speak with her boss and to provide some insights as to why the comments that are made are inappropriate and just plain wrong, only to be labeled a ‘bleeding heart’ and ‘left-wing socialist.’ Which are, to the boss, faaaaaar more offensive descriptors than the other epithets that are thrown around on a regular basis.
Any number of people have suggested that she ‘just quit’- since the atmosphere is so patently toxic and because the job is just that- a job– without any potential for advancement or acknowledgement of the good work that she does.
But she can’t.
No matter how against her principles it is to work for a bigot and remain silent (to a degree, anyway) when offensive, ill-informed and inflammatory rhetoric is spewed on a regular basis, she needs the paycheque. There are loans to repay- related to her educational expenses and as a result of a bad divorce that left her holding the bag on some joint credit accounts- and a roof to keep over her head. As utility rates continue to rise…
She is between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The Devil and the deep blue sea. On the horns of a dilemma.
Between Scylla and Charybdis.
There’s the mythological reference. They have been sorely lacking lately, I realize. Kind of lost the plot of the blog for a bit there. But here I am, back in the saddle again with more mythic sea monsters in tow. Sea monsters are fun.
According to Homer (not Simpson), Odysseus had to choose which of the dangers was the lesser in order to continue his journey. Scylla was described a rock shoal/six-headed monster and Charbydis as a deadly whirlpool, located on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Siciliy and the Italian mainland. Idiomatically, they have become synonymous with choosing between the lesser of two evils in order to move on through the turbulent waters of life.
Sting used his previous life as a school teacher to imbue his lyrics with all kinds of literary allusions- and Synchronicity has more than a few (as I mentioned here). Wrapped Around Your Finger uses the mythological idiom as a metaphor for a dangerous relationship- one that is imbalanced in its division of power. Although the person that he is singing about- the one he has come to learn from- is not, exactly, Faustian in providence (‘Mephistopheles is not your name’) he feels trapped and disempowered by the relationship.
Until the lessons are learned and the tables are turned once the ‘Devil and the deep blue sea’ are behind him.
Principles are necessary. Without principles, based in our upbringing and cultural context, we descend into anarchy. Greed and cronyism run rampant and overshadow the good works that some among us are attempting to accomplish as we try to demonstrate that there is something worth salvaging in this material-driven society of ours.
According to the Wikipedia, principles ‘represent a set of values that orient and rule the conduct of a concrete society. The law establishes an obligation in the individual’s conscience that belongs to the cultural field in which such values are accepted. It supposes the liberty of the individual as cause, that acts without external coercion, through a process of socialization.’
Unfortunately, principles are often expensive– especially at times when our elected leaders are content to maintain their own interests above those of the people who elected them. Times when any job is thought to be a good job. When people are told that to ‘rock the boat’ is irresponsible and dangerous. When people have to work multiple, low-paying jobs to make ends meet, meaning that the time they have in which to explore the underpinnings of principles is lessened to a distressing degree.
In addition to the stress associated with the constant job search and day-to-day dealings with the toxicity of her co-worker, my friend also feels a deeply fundamental guilt and as if she is somehow complicit in the bigotry that surrounds her 45 hours a week.
But her choices- and resources- are few.
The fields of Eden
Are full of trash
And if we beg and we borrow and steal
We’ll never get it back
People are hungry
They crowd around
And the city gets bigger as the country comes begging to town
We’re stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place
This talk of freedom
And human rights
Means bullying and private wars and chucking all the dust into our eyes
And peasant people
Poorer than dirt
Who are caught in the crossfire with nothing to lose but their shirts
Stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Tomorrow our Governor General will deliver the Speech from the Throne on behalf of the federal Conservatives (our federal leaders are finally deigning to get the hell back to work- my sympathy to those of you in the US who are still waiting for that to happen. The prorogation of Parliament might have been a heavily politicized pain in the ass, but at least it didn’t shut down everything). My friend and I will both be listening intently to see what the Conservatives have to say about the jobs they have created under their Action Plan.
I don’t believe that the situation has improved- overall- as much as they continue to claim. Not according to my own experience and the experience of friends. I know too many people who remain in jobs that violate their principles and damage their psyches on a daily basis- at least five days a week. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t seem terribly optimistic either…
And yet THESE guys have well-paying jobs that actually affect the lives of millions of people.
I’ve been studying humanity for the entirety of my adult life, but some days I just reallyreally don’t get people.
This seems to be one of those days.
At least I have some great people keeping me company.
Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.
P.S. STILL needing convincing that sea serpents are cool? Check THIS out. Synchronicity… or something.