So, ‘What do you do’, to Improve This Conversation?

Oh, Sweet Jesus don't let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

Oh, Sweet Baby Jesus don’t let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

It’s the time of year where obligation drags us to parties we could easily have blown off in April. It’s not in my introverted nature to enjoy the Christmas party ritual, but I’m philosophical about the phenomenon. They indicate you or your loved one has a job worth cultivating by your presence, a relatively positive thing to force your hand.

So we go along like good eggs and hope for the best. If you’re a skilled introvert you can survive this extroverted predicament by planting yourself strategically in a dead-zone to make yourself inconspicuous. You tuck in behind a tall plant without appearing as though you’re hiding, situate yourself directly opposite the bar and food table, or stand on the peripheries of a group engaged in conversation, nodding your head pointlessly from time-to-time to sustain the ruse you’re an active participant. There, you’ll sip your wine hoping to avoid being enveloped by the dull, dreary blanket of small-talk and ponder the book you’re in the middle of. You’ll daydream about the passion you’re forgoing to be among a swath of virtual strangers who won’t be seen again until next year’s party.

Without warning Fred, whose wife works with your partner, recognizes you from last year’s Christmas party as he piles fruit cake, seven-layer dip, and chicken wings on his plate. He turns to head in your direction, his sweater blinking intermittently to light his path. This year, he’s pulled out all the stops to win the tacky sweater contest, and by golly he’s gonna break the ice with you.

“So tell me, Edmund, what do you do?”

Smited by God, yet again, for my failure to believe in her. A vengeful shrew she is, to say the least.

I Love My Job Oh Yes I do, Now Let me Tell You of My PooI’m not ashamed of my job, but it’s like any other white-collar gig. I’m paid for a cognitive skill I honed with higher education and spend most of my workday putting my shiny-trained mind to the tasks at hand. I’m pretty good at what I do, according to those who sign my paycheque. It’s all pretty un-spectacular and fraught with disillusionment for falling short of the ideal, like much else in adult life.

It’s slightly embarrassing that a place consuming so much of our time is so banal in the description, but that is usually the case. Among close friends, the mundane oppressiveness of working life is dignified with cynical, witty tirades about the pettiness of office politics; with creative embellishments of professional achievements to justify the continued effort. Friends will empathize with the seething emotion beneath the affectation; they’ll see through the bravado and cheek, and will be supportive and entertained without attaching judgment to betray confidences.

Among relative strangers, political imperatives dictate the safe path be maintained in discussing work, which sucks. If I can’t sarcastically mock the shortcomings of my workplace or vie for your sympathy in outlining the abjectness of my career plight I’d rather avoid the subject entirely. I’m not getting paid for this shit, after all, and I need to have some enjoyment in my personal time.

Since I’m fortunate to not be bogged down in an hourly-wage job, I have spare time to do things I like that are, dare I say, maybe a little sexy. I do yoga. I read books on all kinds of subjects and can sing arias in Italian, French, and German. I cry when I hear beautiful songs, like Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ or ‘Si, mi chiamano Mimi’ in La Boheme. I am a Buddhist and nearly have a black belt in Kung Fu. I lament my kids will soon be teenagers; I despised teenagers when I was one and worry the days of loving my children unconditionally will face serious challenges. I jot down fleeting, quaint musings about life in a blog.

Tuna Sandwich Named KevinWe should be talking about these things, not work. In the aggregate they say something far more interesting about me than my work could ever do. My work indicates to the world I have a job and an income. Maybe it says I’m ambitious and hard-working; that I know how to do stuff. Yawn.

Chances are there are similarly more interesting, unusual, or telling things about you than your job. The difference is in the details. That’s what would make this conversation interesting. Odds are, if you stop dithering about work we can weather this party without needing to get wasted and twerk on the tables in our thong underwear to feel as though it was all worthwhile.

Actually, I should qualify. If you came back from helping African countries fight the spread of Ebola, or spent last week snapping photos of earth from the International Space Station, I’d like to hear about that. If you build schools in Bolivia for the poor, or are working on a cure for cancer, I’d probably be interested in that too.

Having said all that, I need to be brutally honest. As much as I don’t want to talk about my job I really, really don’t give a shit about your job. I beg you not to talk about it unless it’s objectively amazing, which you know it isn’t. It sucks just like mine. If you had an amazing job I’d probably know about it and you wouldn’t be so intent on winning the “Christmas Sweater for Morons” contest, or whatever it’s called in your zany workplace.

I also don’t care if you make oodles of money being good at your job, or are high up in the pecking order where you work. The hierarchies that poison white-collar corporate environments are contemptible, but I understand why anyone would be proud to be a big-shot. That said, it doesn’t interest me. In fact, because I have a rebellious anti-authority bias, if one of the first things you tell me about yourself is that you’re a big-shot, I will probably passive aggressively cut-down whatever smug, mean-spirited, or inane thing you might say thereafter. Remember, I am not your friend, and I am trying to have fun here. To avoid all that, it’s best to steer clear of boring work talk and discuss opera, birding, salsa dancing or anything that will not risk glorifying what either of us believes is an exalted life.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don't get a life outside work.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don’t get a life.

For most adults, working life is kind of sad, pointless, and dull. It’s in the realm of necessity, like eating, drinking, sleeping, and defecating. If you’re socially adept, you don’t talk about your bowel movements or what you had for dinner last night, so I don’t see why you’re talking about your work, even if you really enjoy it. I had an enjoyable bowel movement last night, but I doubt you’re interested. What’s interesting and telling about a person are the things they do when liberated from necessity and are free to choose how they spend their time.

Nobody’s really dying to hear about another person’s job. The topic is raised as a feeble attempt to break the ice, make idle conversation, or pass the time. The desire to forge a bond is honourable in intention, but in the realm of small talk, a desperate appeal to banality to quell anxieties about our alleged separateness. It’s as deceptive and false as shopping and watching television in instilling the notion we’re engaged in a fulfilling use of our precious little time on this earth.

It is also sometimes a lame attempt to add a dash of ego primping to garnish a boring conversation. If we are resigned to the dullness of this experience we may as well stoke feelings of superiority. The question is asked, ‘what do you do?’ and when it’s our turn, we can describe in boring detail the facets of our more important job to others. At least our ego gets off this evening.

When a highly accomplished person asks a stranger point-blank ‘what do you do?’ it betrays an obvious lack of modesty. It is an ego-trip that may ultimately prove insensitive. To witness an unemployed person cobble together a face-saving response in a group of strangers is almost as horrifying as witnessing a woman whose precipitous weight-gain has elicited well-wishes on being pregnant with a child she is not expecting.

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days?

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days? Okay … I … um … can’t actually see who’s raising their hands. But if you are, I KNOW, right?

A person’s work situation may be temporary. They lost a job and were forced to take something quickly to keep ahead of the mortgage. The stranger’s wife may be a Doctor and the choice of who would be the stay-at-home parent was a no-brainer, but it still rouses feelings of discomfort because our society devalues child-rearing as a noble pursuit.

Maybe the stranger is slowly pursuing their passion on evenings and weekends. They work merely to cultivate their dream. Or, maybe their ambitions and energies are placed elsewhere because they don’t care about career pursuits. When so many marriages are destroyed, children neglected, and stress-related illnesses are suffered because of our culture’s work-obsession a focus on other things is a sensible life-choice.

All this is to say there are pitfalls with the question that need to be considered before it is put out there. The risk is a person you don’t know may find a question you’ve put to them extremely alienating. Until there is a real relationship, one not brokered with small-talk, it’s none of your business and shouldn’t be broached so directly.

The question also furthers the belief that career pursuits are the most definitive aspect of a human being. That is some self-serving logic for those who’ve forgone their youth to earn professional credentials and expend their time reaping the economic rewards by working. It is presumptuous to carry on as if the amassing of career achievements was a universally-shared priority. Nearly all North Americans are guilty of this conceit, which merely validates their choice to focus all their energies to the singular pursuit of wealth and status-acquisition to the detriment of all other aims in life. It sets us apart in the world as profoundly one-dimensional, uninteresting, and collectively ignorant human beings.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is so boring and dull, like when too much of it is spent at the office that pissing around in others' lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is boring and dull; when so much of it is spent at the office that messing around in others’ lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Modernity was forged to spare humanity the perils of so much time spent in toil. Those lucky to have been born in wealthy societies but choose to devote the vast majority of their time engaged in work seem to me either foolish or pathological. Either way, the time consumed by work, beyond a certain level, may actively invalidate a life given the luxury of other choices. Life is more important than work; a truth those who have been too career-focused realize only when the end of the precious life they squandered is imminent.

A buddhadharma teacher once said ‘do not speak unless it improves the silence.’ This holiday season, do so with a funny anecdote, or the sharing of a genuine passion. Speak as if your humanity was more vast than the changes in the weather, the ups-and-downs of the local sports team, or the trivial things you do to pay the bills.

Tell me something to improve the silence between us; something real about yourself. If work is all you have to talk about, you’ve got other, more self-enriching work to do in the new year. Get on with it. Get a life before it’s too late. At next year’s Christmas party, I’d love to hear all about it.

Keep Your DICK in a Box Well Away From the Top Shelf

Dick With Balls

The one who started it all. The Dick of all Dicks, Dick Cheney. “Hello underlings, I am a DICK, and blah blah bullshit lie half-truth blah blah America blah blah War blah lie lie lie I eat babies blah blah blah I own shares in weapons companies blah blah blah I am the real President blah blah blah blah lie bullshit posturing blah blah blah …”

A toxic form of humanity is advancing rapidly through the white-collar ranks of large North American organizations. It drains the life of so many innocents trying their best to make a living in the workplace jungle. The scientific name for the phenomenon: Douchebaggus Ignoramus Corporatio Kleptomaniac, otherwise known as DICK.

Dick exists in droves where hierarchies create cadres of executives whose pay and decision-making responsibilities vastly outstrip the ranks at the bottom. In lucky organizations, the top echelons reflect the qualities of an individual you’d expect to have responsibility for so many lives and so much financial capital. Good leaders started at the bottom somewhere, and stayed there long enough to learn the ropes. They know what it’s like to be low man on the totem pole and can point to real achievements instead of lofty position titles along their career path. They are intelligent, humble, and treat people well, regardless of their rank.

Unfortunately in many large organizations there is an inverse relationship between the competency, personality, skills and high rank of the individuals occupying the upper-middle and top shelves of the org chart. Dick knows how to fly like an eagle in a place like this. With his prospects of advancing the ranks not limited by his incompetence and execrable personality, he tirelessly tramples over the well-being of his co-workers as he employs douchebag subterfuge to crawl his way to the top.

The screening criteria to diagnose whether that misery-inducing jerk in your workforce is a Dick are below:

1. Extremes in intelligence: either a profound lack of intelligence, curiosity, or lack of insight; Hyper-intelligence

OR

2.  Male, usually small (literally and figuratively)

AND, one of the following:

3.  Profoundly stunted emotional intelligence, as if his six year-old emotional self wandered into the forest and was never found again, but still controls the behaviours of the adult from somewhere in the deep, dark, and frightening woods.

4.  An unnatural, hyper-inflated self-assessment that entitles them to whatever they desire: promotions, perks, to treat people like dirt, to have a tantrum, to say whatever small and petty thing pops into their douchey mind …

5. Hyper-aggressivity rooted in unexplored feelings of Ill-will, guile, rage, or hostility toward humanity

A Dick with all of the above traits would be in jail had they been born in an unstable home of less than an upper middle-class income. Even though Dick is a crime against humanity, his co-workers are the ones imprisoned in a living hell of his making. Every day they fight the feeling of having been entrapped like a dime-bag dealer on a police sting when they were sold on the opportunities in a job that was open clearly because nobody wanted work with “the asshole.”

As a child, Dick had people putting ideas of being a “professional” in his mind. One or both of his parents was a professional of some type – a corporate executive, lawyer, doctor, engineer, or academic – who instilled the idea that a profession was the only viable career choice for success. They made him believe achievement was rooted in status and rank rather than something tangible, like good work and skill.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick's a bit of a reckless bastard.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick’s a bit of a reckless bastard.

Some Dicks showed early on they weren’t inclined to the knowledge professions, but their parents were in denial about what this meant for their child’s white-collar prospects. They pushed the career aspirations on him anyway knowing they could always intervene with their network of high-powered friends to help him along. It never crossed their minds to push him toward a skilled trade, reflecting an ignorant bias harboured by many white-collar professionals.

Dick could have devoted himself to honing his skills as a tradesman, which would provide an outstanding living if he applied his time and effort to that enterprise. Like many people with practical skills he could have had his own small business and have been a real master of his own destiny. Sure, he wouldn’t be a CEO of thousands of people, but he’d be financially successful and would be his own boss. He wouldn’t have stolen his high rank away from others with his dirt-bag behaviour; he would have achieved success with honest, hard work.

Instead, Dick went to college with ideas of becoming as financially successful and prestigious as his parents in a profession he was not suited for. Realizing quickly he wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, lawyer, US President, engineer, or accountant, he joined a frat, partied, gang-banged sorority girls, and squeaked by to get his degree in Phys Ed. He entered the white-collar workforce intent on running the show, but found himself in the unenviable position of seeking to advance through the ranks over peers with minds and abilities more suited to the work.

Smart Dick, Dumb DickHe could have decided then to focus on his strengths as a people-person. One quality that Dick seems to have in spades is high energy and affability – sometimes genuine, most times fake. He wasn’t born a Dick, and if he had chosen an environment that didn’t constantly tap into his insecurities about his lack of book-smarts or social ineptitude, he probably could have avoided becoming one. He could have leveraged his people skills to build alliances – a vital skill in an organization with a bunch of big minds who often lack soft skills required to manage groups of people.

In relying on shrewdness, aggressiveness, and posturing to beat back others before they cottoned on to his limited intelligence, he chose to get ahead along the dirt road leading through Dicks-ville. Ever since, he’s been like a virus in the workplace. His colleagues can barely avoid violent fits of projectile vomiting from having to stomach Dick’s over-weening sense of self-importance and generous self-assessment of his capabilities.

In the early days his professionally competent colleagues ignored and avoided the confrontations required to put his bad behaviour in its place, dismissing him as a total moron who would easily be weeded out. What they didn’t see is how this re-inforced his blatant misbehaviour. Nobody realizes until it is too late that a Dick has risen to occupy a rank that vastly outpaces his abilities. But once a Dick has inserted himself, by hook and crook, into the organization’s power structure he has to be forcefully pulled out.

Since childhood, everyone told the hyper-intelligent Dick their brains were going to win them “great things” for the future. Instead of accepting the low-ranking social status of a teen of above-average intelligence and socializing with other gifted peers, they pined for acceptance and failed miserably, which fueled their pathological resentment. They spent evenings and weekends obsessively-compulsively masturbating to Ayn Rand novels in quiet solitude charting the course of their revenge against all the mean mediocrities of the world. Their emotional intelligence wilted on the vine with the total absence of a meaningful social life. They did not have even nerdy friends; they did not get laid. No matter. His prestigious credentials in hand, the world would deliver what was due including the money to buy a social life and all the pick-up artist videos needed to get laid without paying by the hour. See Dick be a Dick

From day one of his ascendant career path, Dick could never to stay long enough in a chair to keep it warm; there was always a nicer chair in an office closer to the top floor with his name on it. He’d finagle ways to be in the same place as influential people in the organization to learn where the opportunities to advance were and kiss their ass incessantly to get it. He’d find the emotionally weak and destroy their will with hectoring and condescension to crush their spirit and make himself look more dynamic.

He yelled and screamed when things didn’t go his way and kicked his co-workers in the gut like helpless dogs when he was in a mood. He always acted out when his insecurities ran high, making everyone else pay the price for his errors instead of owning up and using them as learning experience to help him improve. Dick’s mantra: always move forward, fake it if you have to, this place needs you.

As he begins the climb, Dick befriends those who are smarter and uses these contacts to click into networks of other smart-types. The smart-nerds he keeps close are those who cultivate and care about their reputation as experts. They keep Dick supplied with a steady, reliable stream of novel ideas to pass off as his own when he’s among senior people who will take notice. Once he’s on top, he’ll find a way to marginalize his former brainy confreres, knowing what a pain in his ass they’ll be.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

Dick does everything to position himself as a prospect for any opportunity to advance in the organization chart. Everything that is, except really investing the time learning any of his jobs to be good at them. For the hyper-intelligent Dick, this would have been easy, had it not been for his sense of entitlement, which makes him too impatient to actually learn a job or to care about honing his people skills. Dick probably got an MBA, which requires more cash than brains, to help him chop twelve years of working in the real world to demonstrate his perceived right to an executive rank. For a Dick, smart or dumb, everything is a temporary stepping-stone on the ascent to out-rank everyone else.

God help the organization that re-inforces this shithead’s ideas of advancing the ladder before he’s really earned it. The moment Dick ascends the ranks he becomes an obnoxious, condescending ingrate who harbours delusions of grandeur. The higher he climbs despite his incompetence and maladjusted behaviour, the more insufferable he becomes. He is possessed by the delusion his abilities, or worse, his attributes as a Dick, warranted him the promotions. There is no incentive to curb the sociopathy in his behaviour. All is lost.

In those rare and fleeting moments of self-reflectiveness – usually when Dick is publicly upstaged by someone smarter than him or who knows more about his job than he does – Dick is momentarily seized by the idea he’s in over his head. “Fuck that” Dick says to collect himself, and then lobs a flurry of passive-aggressive, man-splaining tirades to attack the very being of the weisen-heimer who made him look stupid. He’ll keep up the rear assaults until ‘Mr/Ms Bookworm’ backs down or suddenly finds themselves blacklisted by Dick who knows how to slander with malicious intent better than the best Republican political strategist.

Most interesting man on ... DouchebagsThis is also how Dick deals with what he sees as obstructionist criticism – he shouts it down so hard the other person concedes defeat to spare themselves his incessant blowhard tactics. He has no tolerance for a diversity of views, nor does he see the value in a collegial exchange of disparate ideas to hash out a middle ground on a problem. He is too uncurious to care about other possibilities besides the ill-informed, blinkered one he believes is correct. He sees those who forward alternative perspectives as guilty of insubordination, flouting gratuitous negativity; as Cassandras who won’t follow the pack.

Persecuting underlings is one of Dick’s most conspicuous traits, especially when he’s reached a certain rank and has had a taste of authority, which he is unable to handle intelligently. He cannot understand how his abrasiveness would constantly undermine the morale of people who invest a high degree of job satisfaction in obtaining feedback about a job well-done. Dick’s definition of job satisfaction is having a job.

If Dick is a man, which he usually is, his unceasing torments are more a pathological aspect of a reactive personality completely devoid of empathy, than a calculated campaign of abuse. It’s how he operates, and he thinks people should realise that. It’s not personal, he’s just a tough cookie with high expectations. He cannot relate to what it feels like to be on the other end of his asshole antics.

In the rare case that Dick is a woman, the torment is probably calculated, less openly hostile, but absolutely eviscerating. The most dangerous person in an organization is an intelligent she-Dick, a person so frightening I’m too afraid to lampoon them in this blog post. She-Dick will find me and destroy my life. Did I mention she-Dick is really intelligent?

As a senior person in the organization, Dick’s incessant criticism, lack of encouragement, caustic demeanour, and capricious, panic-stricken series of unreasonable demands throws shards of glass beneath the feet of his direct reports. For years he has sub-consciously learned that a hierarchical corporate culture spawns legions of people-pleasers who respond to aggressive posturing, giving people like him the powers of a puppeteer. With a few churlish displays the shrinking violets scatter frantically to appease the angry ogre, dispatched as they are with meaningless chores of little value to the organization, meant to allay the ill-effects and smooth over the damage wrought by his incompetence.

Cameraman: "Hey Stu, how about you take your shirt off to have one of the last pictures with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies" Stu: "No way bro' I love this fuckin' shirt. I wanna remember me an my mom havin' a laugh. Take the fuckin' picture"

Cameraman: “Hey Stu, you wanna take your shirt off so the last picture with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies isn’t with the ‘Dick with the shirt’?”
Stu: “Hey bro’ I have a fuckin’ tattoo on my neck, cuz I don’t give-a-shit. I got this shirt my first day outta prison, so I got sense-a-mental value to it. Now, take the fuckin’ picture. Say cheese Ma!”

Here is the million dollar question: if Dicks are so bad, why do they keep rising to the top?

The easiest answer is Dicks love to do the circle jerk with other Dicks. At the top of an organization teeming with Dicks the boardroom is a bro-culture in pin-striped suits. It’s hard to continue being an asshole if the emotional intelligence, brains, and human decency among your colleagues holds a mirror the size of the moon to your stunted being. Even though a Dick at the top is advised to hire people to accommodate his profound shortcomings, he can’t help but promote one of his own because he’s too stupid or arrogant to believe more than his talents are needed. He possesses talent for a whole executive team and really only needs more sets of hands to carry through all the earth-shattering ideas oozing from his ego. In the end, a total Dick looks like the best candidate in the eyes of a total Dick.

His urge to remain unchallenged, to have obsequious subordinates to go along with disastrous errors in his judgement far outweighs his desire to hire competent people who can actually do a good job. They’ll make him look bad. They’ll constantly challenge his shallow decrees with arcane appeals to law, policy, or reason.

This is why it’s taken more than forty years of feminism for women to even begin to crack the glass ceilings across the corporate world. Bros before ho’s, as they say. The lack of women and introverted, brainy types is an historical Dick-slap to the axiom that calls for the upper echelons of large, complex organizations to be dominated by people of bona fide skill and competence. Instead, too many Dicks have risen to the top ranks with bluster, self-aggrandizement, and charm but little else of substance.

The adage is true, when it comes to Dicks, size does matter. Even when the top echelons of an organization is filled with competent and capable leaders, the size of the organization will be a cover for Dick’s misbehaviour. Because of scale alone, legions of influential people won’t really know how Dick operates. Dick is expert at spotting, and ingratiating himself into some fairly opportune glory-holes and hitting paydirt, knowing his reputation will benefit by sheer association. Dick can keep his malevolence in line to ingratiate himself with senior people in a functional division if it means he’ll win advancement. He can peel off his fluffy sheep’s clothing later on when he’s got the power and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits getting their thizzang on with some gangsta shit.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits doing their thizzang with some gangsta shit.

Organizations that rhetorically value competency, that have complex, challenging goals to achieve, will pay the price in poor performance if there are too many feeble-minded, megalomaniacal Dicks in the boxes near the top of the organization chart. Large organizations of knowledge-workers rely on the collaborative efforts of its human capital to succeed, which is totally undermined with the hyper-aggressive, childish, morale-killing behaviours of a hyper-ambitious, emotionally stunted leadership cadre. They will crush the will and spirit of competent, capable human assets wherever they exist in the organization. These valuable would-be leaders will leave before they deign to ascend the ranks, avoiding having to withstand the nightmare of working more often with so many Dicks in their face.

Nobody with genuine abilities to speak of will invest their sweat equity only to have it beaten down to nothing in the self-interested grabby-hands of a bunch of Dicks. That’s why organizations need to get a good grip on those Dicks and yank ‘em out; let the Dicks have a taste of what it’s like to get the shaft for once. Do it now, to preserve the long-term viability of the organization and restore sanity to your workforce.