Friday, September 25, 2009

Lack of Compassion, A Cautionary Tale

I have found lately that the world has become a very hard place. In all the necessity to multi-task, perform and produce beyond our abilities, and work outside the box -- a term I loathe -- we exert ourselves in order to prove our worth to the organization, but we have lost our humanity. We are beginning to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Deltas and Epsilons in "Brave New World". We are expected to be robotic, and not have lives outside of work, or -- God forbid -- human feelings.

Yesterday, a young man with whom I have worked for several years, stood up, put his access pass on his boss's desk, and walked out of the office. He had had enough, and in my heart I cheered for him. The young man, Robert* (*not his real name) had given his notice to quit a couple of weeks ago, and had been planning to go back to school. Just hours after he gave his notice, his father died. His father had also worked in our organization as a physician, and was loved and respected by everyone. Last weekend was his memorial service, and everyone turned out to pay their respects. As a result of his father's death, Robert felt a bit lost and decided going back to school at this time was more than he could handle. He approached his boss and asked if he could retract his notice to quit. After all, no one else had been hired for the job yet, in fact it had not even been posted. Robert's boss would have been happy to give him his job back. She likes him, he does a good job, and it would have saved her a lot of effort having to find someone to replace him. But the final word did not rest with her, and a "higher-up" said, "No, Robert could not have his job back."

I often use the phrase, "If I ruled the world..." when I see something with which I do not agree. In this case, if I ruled the world, Robert would have his job back, and he would have the opportunity to grieve his father's death with as little turmoil in his life as possible. But that, unfortunately, was not the case. He was made to serve the rest of his time at the job, in an office where his father also had worked. Robert now had not only lost his father, but he had lost his job, and his connection to his father and the folks who were part of his and his father's lives for such a long time. Can you even imagine the weight of the sorrow Robert is carrying?

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think there was a better way to handle this situation. Robert has worked at the organization for six years. He deserves better; he deserves to be treated like a human being, at the very least.

"When the individual feels, the community reels." Aldous Huxley, "Brave New World".

You must be very careful not to show your humanity; someone may be watching.


A.M. said...

You are always right on the target Johanna. I agree, he should have kept his job. Personality/issues aside... Robert is talented, smart, and funny.

Nancy said...

My husband always tell the story of his very first boss after grad school - he told him to never love a job because it won't love him back. Words to live by.

Marguerite said...

That's too bad about your friend, Jo. Thankfully, Cajuns are very forgiving and compassionate. Maybe you should move here! :)
Have a fun weekend!

magnoliaamber said...

Johanna, I like your blog! I have been looking for blogs that does not just display beautiful picture...they are really beautiful, but I am looking for more words of no ridicule..

If only we could lend hand to this Robert..

I don't understand why his request to stay is rejected.

ivan said...

Powerfully felt emotions behind a beautiflly crafted blog, Josie.

Haven't we all been there, the little cubicle of an office and the outbox to put the gut-wrenching work into.
I sometimes think work is a form of prostitution. Cetatinly some of the work I'd had to do in journalism...Interviewing grieving parents after a death of a daughter...and getting the right angle on a story. The dream, yes, the terrible dream of the future that the mother had before the actual fatal event when she lost here daughter.
Not for the squeamish. You were a professional.
Small wonder that one reporter in New York once wrote. "That which we do is morally repugnant."
--Portrait of the artist as a young ogre?
You do or you lose the job.
--To flinch not, to falter not, and be almost surgical.
You get the feeling that all professionals have to be part ogre.
Certainly the "higher ups."
Yet, curiously at the Toronto Star in the Sixties, this kind of thing would never have happened with an employee. Robert would not only keep his job, but would probably be gives six months leave with pay...That's how good things used to be when the Star practised what it preached: Respect for the little guy, the guy in trouble...Yet somebopdy had to chase the ambulances and interview the shocked, bleeding victims of a subway wreck.
Negative capability.
We learned it from the poet Keats.
Holding two powerfully felt sentiments at the same time.
A President sending troops to Afghanistan, some of whom will surely be maimed or killed.
Negative capability.
It's called leaderhship, I guess.
But oddly, through a kind of negative capability-- between fable and fact-- a paper like the Star in the Sixties had the best executive editors. I was not one of them.
I surely would not have been able to handle the job. Not in my nature.
Stay small or go crazy? Nigative capability?
That, unfortunately, is one of the lessons.

the walking man said...

The only way to not be a part of the machine is to not be a part of the machine. You may be a clerk or a "cog" but you don't have to conform to the mindset. Unfortunately them who move highest in the machine are them who have no love or blood only oil and "the policy says" for thought.

greenpanda said...

That's really awful. I really hope he can find something better. I think what he needs is some time to be left alone and to sort himself out.

PhilipH said...

Johanna, that post is heart-wrenching. What sort of person is this 'higher up' executive?

I went through a similar period when I first gained my post in the Customs and Excise. I was pleased to have passed all their exams and interviews.

After about 18 months of long distance commuting, struggling with this bureaucratic system so alien to me (an ex-bookie's clerk) and with family problems I resigned my commission.

Went back to the bookie busines, but hated that even more. After 10 months I wrote to C&Excise and asked if I could return. I apologised for my departure and said that all their training and expense in hiring me could be salvaged etc. They re-instated me within a fortnight. I worked for many more years as a civil servant until the pressures became too great and I left for good.

I feel deeply sorry for Robert. I do hope that he manages to survive and do well. It's a harsh world.

Nicole said...

What a joke! WHy is it that the good, hard workers are the ones that always get treated the worst?
I feel for this your friend. I hope he is able to move on and actually go back to school.

Russell said...

Transitions are never easy. Robert is certainly going through some tough ones now - both personal and professional.

When it comes to jobs, I have found that nearly always -- no matter how awful or painful losing the earlier job was -- the next job is even better. So I hope that will be the case for Robert.

Many years ago I resigned from a bank job in Minnesota. After a few days I became terror stricken at what I had done. No pay. Unknown future. Panic set in.

I worked on my parents' farm for a few months and got a job in Des Moines, Iowa, at a small college. It was the start of a much better future.

Sometimes a person needs to take a long walk in the park or along the beach or maybe take a little trip to gain some perspective on life.

Life is made up of decisions and regardless of the road taken, there are many things and people to enjoy. But you have to lift you head up so you can see them.

susie said...

Yes, this is sad. Quite possibly he was relying on his father's help to attend school, and now it isn't there. The "higher ups" are removed from the situation, and quite possibly, since the job hadn't been posted yet they had been planning on eliminating it. This is what happens in large organizations. In a small business, the boss and the workers work along side each other and get to know each other. That's where you can have compassion.

Country Girl said...

If he is as a good a person as you say, he will find his way. It's sad to sit by and watch, however.

O. Joy said...

What a powerful & heartfelt post. I feel for "Robert". And I feel sadness for the "higher ups" that lack humanity. We are becoming a bit of a robotic world... thanks goodness for those of us who say "If I ruled the world"!

Alissa said...

That's ridiculous. I hope for Robert this will end up being something of a mixed blessing, maybe he will go on to school or something better that ends up being where he really belongs.

Land of shimp said...

What in the world was the reasoning behind denying his request? I realize you may not know, but not only am I appalled, I'm fascinated by what was said, or done at the higher levels that had this determination being made. It sends a terrible message to the other employees.

Perhaps they weren't planning to replace him, but to divvy his job responsibilities up among others? If that was the case, the least they could have done was offer him some sort of counter 3 months, 6 months, a contract job in a different area, something!

I'm sure Robert will be fine, he'll likely return to school as was his original plan, but what a heart wrenching blow.

It's made worse by not having any understandable reasoning displayed, for everyone remaining. If it was a budgetary decision, or whatever it might have been, it would have been better to state it. Even if people could not support the decision, at least the could have understood the logic behind it.

Ay yi yi. That young man's impulse is very understandable. Following a big loss, people are discouraged from making any big changes for a year afterward.

Jo, is there any chance that the higher ups, in some sort of misguided plan were considering his father's wishes? "Robert's father wanted him to return to school so much..." that sort of thing?

Yeah, I'm grasping at straws. It would be cold-blooded in any workplace, but it is made doubly so because of his father's association with the place. That makes me wonder if some misguided soul thinks, "Really, in the long run, he'll thank me." in this move?

No? Argh.

Cedar said...

1. That is not very cost effective for your company not to keep Robert, after all he has six years of experience at the job.

2. Outside the now the box.

The Bug said...

This happens where I work, sometimes. Sometimes management has been eagerly awaiting the day the person resigns & would NEVER let them rescind the resignation. Sometimes the person is considered too valuable to lose, so they let them come back (even if they actually left & then wanted to return later).

It's really hard, because despite the fact that we should use objective criteria to make such decisions, it's really all about personalities...

Like some of the others said, I hope this ends up being a blessing for Robert.

SparkleFarkle said...

The world these days, I just don't understand it. When did caring, sensitivity and just plain being nice become such a crime? My heart breaks for Robert. All the Roberts. And Robertas, too. ANd, Hell, YES! You should be in charge of the world! (Can I help out? I could get you coffee. Pick up your dry cleaning, then? Think about it.)

Anonymous said...

I studied the novel in high school and it's terrifying how much the our world has striking similarities to the World State. Share the same sentiments about your ex-colleague but I believe everything happens for a reason :)

robert said...

Being a 'Robert' on my own, would like to asure you, that 'we' are not able to give up and will always be able to find enough strength to continue with what we want; yes, indeed many times making false decisions, in the eyes of others, but they are surely right for us, leading the life towards our future goal, to make this world a better place, at any cost.
A wonderful weekend and many greetings to Robert as well.

TomCat said...

Josie, I'm at a loss for words. That this superior should be so heartless boggles the mind. Is the superior's superior aware of this? It might behoove 'Robert' to appeal to a higher authority.

B said...

A little compassion would have been nice. Sometimes, I think that's what's really wrong with the world: no compassion.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This is simply horrible. When real humans are in charge, there are always mitigating circumstances; perhaps that is why we've mostly been replaced by robots.

I hope that Robert has a warm support system outside of his former job which will help him with his grief, and strengthen him for whatever he decides to do next.

K said...

I feel so sorry for Robert, and yes this world is NOT fair at all.

Sometimes I do believe humanity is broken, and I do believe how dark this society can be.

This world has never been easy for us to live. We have to be very careful to survive.

lovelyprism said...

That poor man! I can't see any reason for such a decision, but just maybe it will set him down the road to something bigger and better.

KathyB. said...

There are not harsh enough words for the "higher ups" and they don't care anyway..they showed that by this very decision. Robert will probably do very well in spite of this and the higher ups will not care about that either...such is humanity , and most of the world.So the real trick is to live our lives as we see fit , and to be able to have a clear conscience at the end of the day.

The Panorama said...

It is a tough heartless world, Jo. I hope things turn out right for Robert and maybe he should go back to school anyway. Who knows it may actually turn out the best thing he ever did ?
Good post:)

pilgrimchick said...

That's amazing that he couldn't have his job back after all of that--absolutely amazing. It is certainly discouraging.

Kate said...

That sort of treatment of a colleague would most certainly affect MY feelings towards our employer, and likely the morale of all those in the workplace, no? I'm sure I would not hide that from my employer either.

I agree with Nancy. One needs to keep a certain detachment from the job in order to preserve one's sanity.

TC said...

No matter the reasoning behind the "higher ups" letting Robert go there should have been some reason given. No matter about company policy etc. that would be just plain human courtesy.
I've had jobs where I felt like I was family and jobs where I felt like I was the enemy, lets hope Robert finds one of the good ones.

Pouty Lips said...

What a morale buster for the employees left behind too. And poor Robert!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I agree with you and sympathise with Robert and his situation. I have encountered similar situations where i had to make the decision. In both cases, I went against policy and went the extra mile to help the individuals. One went on to make me proud by making a success of a very difficult job. However, the other repaid my kindness with treachery and an attempt to have me removed for his own career advancement. Ah, well, such is human nature. Keep burning against the dark. :)

Mariana Soffer said...

I forgot about your blog, I really like it it is great, thanks.
I do computing and I hate the term outside the box, it is pretencious. And we might be loosing our humanity, I am not sure why dough, and if it is really like that.

Then about not telling your weaknesses, I always knew I shouldn t do that, specially at work, because people allways want to fuck you up, and improve their status. That is just like that. Money and greed are incredibly strong nowadays, so remember do not ever tell. Anyway I talk about that with my closest friends only, I think that I prefer to risk it a little than to live myself without friends, and alone in this world.

The world became mercyless, like you exemplify in the case of the jobless man, it is so sad!

I liked how you think, that if you could you would do that, I indeed do the same, I would like to be succesfull enough to be able to handle enough people to make a difference, I want to treat them well, encourage them to learn, but specially get what they desrve.

Take care new friend!

Paula Slade said...

What a sad tale and tragic timing for Robert. I do hope he finds his way.