Monday, May 10, 2010

A Swing and Miss of Manjushri's Sword

We had another barn-burner of a staff meeting at work last Friday. Just to give you an idea of the tone, at one point, while discussing yet another major change to our classes and workload, I turned to one of the directors, pointed directly at her face, and said "What have you sacrificed?"

It was a tense moment brought on by a long-standing frustration with this particular director, whose department in the school has increased over the past two years while the rest of us have had to reshuffle our decks, take pay cuts, and generally feel demoralized. The director got defensive. I said she was always trying to "push" projects through. She called me a "negative person." I said "look around, everyone here is burned out." Then a hallelujah chorus broke out from the other teachers on staff, who seemed to have been waiting for that particular elephant to be driven out from under the table.

However, I misspoke in the beginning, to ramped up to ask the correct pointed question. It should have been "What has your department sacrificed?" But instead, I made it personal, which is what we do most of the time when were frustrated and not thinking too clearly.

Genkaku has an interesting posttoday that points to why I felt so frustrated with what was happening.

He writes:
Nobody likes a bullshitter, but what occurred to me this morning was that getting my tail in a twist was a bit of an overreaction ... a long-standing habit based on the harm I have experienced at the hands of an over-active intellect, i.e. an over-active imagination.

When each person is confronted with the bullshit in their lives -- the disconnect between talking the talk and walking the walk -- when, in fact, there is not much other than bullshit to work with, then working with bullshit is simply the name of the game. It is a way of encouragement and effort, a flash of lightning that may, in fact, help to put the saddle on the horse. The fault does not lie with the bullshit itself but with the unwillingness or inability to investigate and make whole what is for the moment disconnected

I can see now how I was reacting not only to the director's continued stonewalling about the whole picture of the organization, but also to the sloppiness of the question that shot out of my mouth in such a ramped up manner. I wanted to be Manjushri in that moment, because the situation was crying out for such action, but the cut of my sword missed, and more suffering was the result.

Do I feel bad about all this? Not really. Mostly, I find it interesting how often it takes a messy series of exchanges in order to bring anything buried to the surface. We'd all been going along, trying to try, when the reality was there was so little morale and so much burnout that all the collective effort to be cooperative was killing us. I'm pretty sure that not saying such things as "we have little energy or morale left" is a product of the "do good at all expense" culture I find so pervasive amongst non-profit types. It's making me take a step back and consider what it would mean to have a healthy, balanced organization that serves others because they seem so rare to me. I've experienced short periods of collective balance in non-profits and other service groups, but it never lasts.

And I think Genkaku's lines about bullshit are an important pointer here because it does always seem to come back to talking the talk, but not walking the walk, doesn't it?

* For more images linked to the one above, go here.


Daniel @ Campinas said...

Man looks like you got quite a situation there. I remember once I had an "incident" with a teacher when i was in High School. Now, I was your average kid, never had any discipline problems. This was more of a ideological difference of opinion. But I really lost my cool. I was 16 and full of piss and vinegar. I never forget when I walked in to the disciplinary office. The director looked at me and since I was a new face he looked at me and said "Who the F#*% are you?" he pulled my file and asked why after 3 years of not a single incident I was there with a teacher wanting to rip my head off. I explained what happened. he just shook is head, looked at me, and said "little dude, I'm gonna tell you this only once. Remember this for the rest of your life: you got to choose your battles. Discretion is the better part of valor." He went on to say I had 3 days detention, but he prefered I went to the library and attended study hall, and would not mark me as absent from detention. Anyways, the reason I said all this is because that situation at work may work against you. Yes, stand up for what you believe is right, but be careful in doing so it doesn't cost you your job. It does not sound like that director is to fond of you, and if budget cuts mean staff cuts, "bad apples" are the first to go. Bad apples depends on who does the judging...

Nathan said...

Thanks Daniel, I totally agree - and have been choosing my times to speak up. The fortunate thing is that the organization will have a new head director July 1st. Maybe that won't change things enough, but at least this particular director will not hold sway over me and the other teachers anymore. In the meantime, I continue to look for new "career opportunities," and maybe keep my mouth shut more for the next month and a half.