January 17, 2003

On the Dilbertization of the Workplace
...or thoughts during a meeting

Nancy Nall is convinced that the "next Big Novel -- OK, the next Big Comic Novel -- we all read and discuss will be about work. There's just too much material. On the other hand, it's the sort of material that takes the wind out of satire's sails, because it transcends it in every way."

We recently had a second pre-meeting before an upcoming overview session. Lard upon lard. These meetings have a sort of out-of-body experience to them; I could take them more seriously if everyone else took them less seriously. We all know what has to be done and could do it w/out the pageantry and project charters. The meeting made me feel old or cynical or both.

I think to self, “she is too old to be so enthusiastic”; I try to recall that her job depends on enthusiasm, on rallying the troops, on making management see that she is valuable player. But it still feels like farce. I feel like I’m watching a bad play. The meeting is interrupted by someone leaping up. His phone is space-age cool, like something George Jetson would have. A little blue light fired on as he flipped it up. It looked like a toy.

It wouldn't have felt this way years ago. I still recall those halcyon days; I projected all the sophistication and importance of the world upon my job. I showed my parents my desk and bragged, only half-joking, that this is where the important decisions are made.

The truth is that most work outside the home seems unutterably small, with the exception of ministry work, the professions, and art. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Priest, prophet, poet. And yet all work is meaningful, by definition, because work is done by humans and humans are of inestimable value. A shoe-maker’s work is as valuable to God as a CEOs. But I have trouble getting this construct into my head though. I make the linkage intellectually but… Perhaps I’m bastardizing the corporate experience – without ambition to advance it becomes a farce. They can become exercised over minutiae because they are hungry – they want to get to the next level. Strip “the game” from the corporate rat race and you’re left with…what?

And yet these are surely just the musings of the terribly spoiled. What about the Mexican migrant worker who sends every dime back to Mexico so that his wife can join him? What about the starving in Africa? They would love a farcical job.

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