Friday, March 4, 2016

Bathroom bull can be a bear

Many people, if not most, have experienced having their trips to the restroom monitored in at least one workplace.  From a mild, "Again?" to more intrusive questions--"Why do you have to go so often?  Why did it take you so long?"--to the extremes of timing and logging and even attempting to schedule bathroom use, some employers and managers behave in ways that at times border on harassment.

In some cases, it is unquestionably harassment.  A well publicized and widely criticized story in 2014 reported a workplace that had installed an electronic monitoring system, requiring card key access into the restroom.  The new policy penalized employees who used the bathroom "too much" and offered incentives to "reward" employees who kept bathroom use to a minimum.

This compulsion to monitor how often and how long people go to the bathroom seems to be rooted in a fear that people are just looking for an excuse to avoid doing their work, or a way to goof around online, or a chance to play games on their phones, away from Management Eyes.

Maybe, just maybe, people make all of those trips to the restroom because THEY HAVE BODILY FUNCTIONS.

What a radical suggestion.

Let me ask you this: Do you think the upper management has to account for their every trip to the restroom? Do you think anyone is asking the CEO, or any other executive, why they were in the restroom for so long? Do you think reporting the details of their bodily functions is listed among their duties?

If they don't have to do it, why does anyone else have to do it?

And if your answer is that they hold a higher rank in the company, they've earned the privilege of freedom, congratulations: You are part of the problem.


Ultimately, corporate bathroom b.s. is but a symptom of the larger problem, viewing some people as "below" other people, rather than viewing everyone as capable self-directed adults who can be trusted to use their own judgment and should be treated with basic human dignity and respect.

If people really do hate their jobs that much that they would rather hide on the toilet than do their work, perhaps it's time to ask what kind of work culture your company is fostering that such desperate escapism would be a widespread pattern. Most people normally don't think of a public restroom as an appealing place to hang out; they just want to do their business and move along.

To deny an employee's basic right to use the restroom at will is to treat them, not as fellow human beings, but as mere cogs in the machine in the service of ever-increasing "productivity." In the modern corporate world, productivity has become an all-consuming idol, trying to always extract more work from fewer people in smaller amounts of time, squeezing every last drop of potential profits from every possible minute of the day.

Sustainability is a much healthier vision for creating a business that is truly functional and beneficial for all people concerned. When the goal is to be sustainable, rather than merely "productive" and "profitable," a business seeks balance: finding ways to do the work that needs to be done that will create a healthy income with everyone working at a reasonable, healthy pace, leaving breathing room for things like relieving oneself or taking care of one's period without being subjected to an inquisition.

Remember that a business is there to serve the employees every bit as much as the employees are there to serve the business. It's a collaborative, cooperative relationship: Human beings working together to meet one another's needs. Every employee, at every level of the company, is contributing to producing the goods and services that meet the needs of the people who buy those goods and services, and every employee deserves to be respected in meeting their own needs during the course of the work day.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The business of business is PEOPLE

At the first hint of questioning the idea that "profit" should be the goal of doing business, even liberal, progressive people tend to do a double take.  It's as if you had walked into a medieval cathedral in the middle of Sunday mass and questioned the authority of the pope.  Profit is something we just don't question; so we have been dutifully conditioned.

Yet profit is not essential, at least as a primary end goal, to creating and sustaining a healthy business.  Profit is simply the surplus income after expenses are met.  And guess what?  The wages and salaries of employees are considered an "expense" in the reckoning of company finances.

That means that the money you are paid to make your living is not, traditionally, a reward for your talents, time, and skills.  It is an expense to be minimized, while maximizing the amount of work you produce, in order to maximize profits--financial surplus--for the corporate shareholders.

You are an expense to be minimized.  That is the bottom-line perspective of the traditional profit-driven model of business, even if most businesses are smart enough to avoid stating it in so many words.

Many of the issues people have with their workplaces, the way employees are treated and the way business is done, are rooted in this fundamental idea that profits, not people, are the purpose for doing business.

To shift this reality, we need to address and shift the ideas that support it.  We need to question, challenge, and change the beliefs, the values, the principles upon which business is built in our culture.

We need to envision a model of business that centers upon meeting the needs of people, focused upon providing as good a living as possible to ALL of the people working in the business, and upon providing goods and services to the community that enrich the community.

We need to envision a model of business that moves beyond the old "capitalism or communism" dichotomy.  We need to move beyond the false choice between corporate oligarchy and government oligarchy, and envision ways to create a system that is human-centered and market-based with a solid safety net undergirding it.

Most important, we we need to envision and create checks and balances that prevent any few individuals from hoarding the majority of power and resources, be it governing power or economic power.  We have enough to meet everyone's needs; it is possible to create a more balanced economy, built on healthy, respectful, mutual workplace dynamics.

What's NOT possible, under such a model, is for a few people to maintain control over the lives and livelihoods of many.

The business of business is PEOPLE.

Let this be our guiding principle, our vision, our statement of purpose.

And so it is.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

It IS okay to throw things away!

It is okay to throw things away!

Seems like an obvious point, and a not terribly profound affirmation, but really it goes right to the core for many of us for whom clutter has been a challenge.  On some level, we have internalized the belief that we must hang on to everything that isn't complete and total garbage.  And in some extreme cases, people have been conditioned to hoard even garbage:  useless waste, broken items, and so on.

And so it's very important to affirm that it IS okay to let go of what we no longer want or need.

Stuff that's obviously still useful and in good shape to donate is easier to part with.  But many of us have internalized a belief that we should never throw away a "perfectly good" item--meaning something that isn't obviously worn out or broken beyond all repair.

And so we feel obligated to keep things we no longer like, things that are stained or scratched or are torn or broken, "but just need to be fixed!"  Sure, the shirt may be stained or yellowed or dingy with age, but it's "still wearable."  Okay, the furniture looks like crap, and yet "it's still perfectly good, you can't throw it away."

Throw it away.

Ultimately, hoarding clutter is a denial of entropy.  It's a denial that things do eventually wear out, diminish, get scruffy.  We want to pretend it's still fresh and new, as we remember it.

Part of life is recognizing that we do periodically need to throw out the old and bring in the new.

If we can't do this with even our material environment, how can we bring ourselves to do it with our lives?

It is okay to throw things away.  Don't be fooled by the illusion of "someday."  Look realistically at what you know you will need, here and now and in the reasonably foreseeable future.  For example, you know that seasonal decorations will be used in the coming year.  Ditch the junk that has no real purpose, but yet, "I hate to throw it out..."

Throw it out.

Be spacious.  Be free.

Focus your life, here and now.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's okay

It's okay to make mistakes.
It's okay to try and fail.
It's okay to stumble and fall.

Get up. Brush off. Move forward. Carry on.

It's okay to be youthful and naive and make decisions that prove to be poor.

There is no shame in not knowing what you have not yet learned.

It's okay to be naive and trusting at any age, to realize you will never know everything there is to know, that no matter how carefully you live and learn, sometimes you will still find yourself being taken for a fool.

It's no shame on you when others take advantage of your trust.

There is no shame.
There is no blame.

Life is a lifelong process of learning, discovering, trying and doing and sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, and sometimes just saying, "Well, I learned something new."

It's okay to be simply human.

You don't have to have all the answers.

You don't even have to know all the questions.

And when you do have some questions, it's okay to question the questions as well as the answers.

You will never, ever "get there."

You have been here all along.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Positively speaking, this needs to change

Recently I ran across a meme with words worth pondering:

Ever known a narcissist? They will verbally and emotionally abuse you, using put downs, criticisms, and insults. Then when you stand up for yourself, they come unglued and say you are the toxic one.

That really applies to the pattern of emotional and verbal abuse as a whole, not just to narcissism, and it is exactly spot on. It got me thinking about the times, from childhood on, when I experienced bullying and abuse, and about the pattern I saw more often than not: When I would say or do something to protest the abuse, I was the one who got in trouble for "making a fuss" or such like. From what I am told about the experiences of others, that is the typical pattern.

Why is this? Why is the tendency to blame the victim rather than the bully/abuser? Why do people tend to want to sweep it all under the rug, or say, well, you must have played a part in provoking the bully/abuser, or just look the other way and say nothing? Why do we shame the child for pointing out the truth that the emperor is buck naked?

A part of me really just wants to live a quiet creative life in peace and solitude, making nice writing and nice art and having no ripples in my pond, and chasing away those who would disturb my peace. Then another part of me remembers that disturbers still disturb, whether it's my peace or someone else's, and that part of me wants to speak out and use my considerable voice to help effect lasting social change.

In any case, whatever my particular role on Planet Earth, we as a society need to change the messages that ignore or excuse abuse. Positive thinking means recognizing our power to create positive and permanent shifts in our lives and in our culture. It does not mean pretending everything is fine just the way it is.

So I am positive that the simple act of speaking my truth is one step towards creating the vision of a safe and healthy society for all of us.  And so it is.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pride Arises, After the Fall

Can you be proud
    of me
for having survived abuse,
    for growing to become
confident, strong, secure?

Can you be proud?

Can you be proud
    of me
for making the best of
    a bad situation,
a night I never wanted,
    a life-changing detour
of my dreams?

Can you be proud?

Can you be proud
    of me
for finishing college
    with an honors GPA
while raising a child
    all on my own?

Can you be proud?

Can you be proud
    of the hours I worked,
    the persistence that paid,
    the betrayals I endured,
    the judgments I overcame,

the triumph
    that, in spite of the mudslingers,
    became my life?

Can you be proud
    that I spoke out,
    that I still speak,
    that I keep speaking
    with the strength of

my loud, proud voice--

Can you be proud?

Can, or cannot,
    I suppose,
es macht nichts.




Sunday, August 2, 2015

Blue Moon Ascending

When at last I saw
    what I saw
not what I thought I saw

When I recognized the mind
    field of ridicule and shame

--not the way

it had to be

When I tired of getting
    shouted down
       put down
          held down
            let down

When I spoke
    and they would keep speaking
    as if I never had spoken

monkey in the middle
    of words to which

I was denied admission

When at last I admitted,
    allowed myself to


Someday They Will See
    is a fairy tale
    with no happy ending

Then I said,
    to the only one who was listening:

What AM I
    holding on to?

And I let go.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bullying serves a purpose

In recent years there's been a lot of awareness raised about bullying and abuse. Many voices are saying they want to put an end to the cultural acceptance of bullying and create instead a culture in which everyone feels safe and respected.

I wonder if that's really what everyone wants.

Bullying involves keeping people feeling powerless, afraid, intimidated, and lying low in hopes of avoiding being targeted. Such people are much easier to control than people who feel fundamentally confident, strong, secure, and safe. If some people have a vested interest in maintaining that culture of fear and control, they will not support efforts to transform that culture into one of safety and respect.

Think about it.

All through my school years I waited patiently for everyone to grow up and grow out of that pressure to take cues from everyone else and to fit in with everyone else. At midlife, I am seriously considering that maybe the real, unspoken point was for those of us who didn't "fit in" to realize that we were "supposed" to learn how to fit in, and to hide whatever about ourselves persistently did not "fit in."

Peer pressure, in this light, is not a mere adolescent phase but an essential element of our culture and the institutions of our society.

Think about it.

And then decide if that's what you really want to see, and to be, in the world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gender Whatever

Growing up in the Seventies, I used to sing, "I am woman, hear me roar," with great gusto.  Stereotyped sex roles were a thing of the past.  Bring on diversity!  Free to be you and me.  Do the work you love, wear the clothes you want to wear, and if anyone insists that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, tell them to bury those outdated views with the rest of the dinosaurs.  "Feminine" and "masculine" were now considered purely subjective social judgments about neutral personality traits; being a woman or a man simply meant you were born in a female or male body, regardless of what you liked to do or how you liked to dress.

And I thought that was the last word on sex, gender, and freedom, until transgender people began to raise their voices and speak out more and more often, taking their place on everyone's radar screen, invisible no more.

And I found myself challenged to reconsider, again, the meanings of sex and gender and society.

That some people born with a male body preferred to live in "feminine" ways, and some people born with a female body preferred to live in "masculine" ways, I could easily understand.  I've never understood why so many other people made such a big deal about strict gender roles that are totally arbitrary and totally made up.  As long as you do no harm, do what you will.

What I couldn't grasp was how it was possible for people inhabiting the body of one sex to have an internal experience of being the other sex.  To me, being a woman simply meant my inner self--soul, spirit, psyche, what-have-you--happened to inhabit a female body; being a man simply meant a person's inner self happened to inhabit a male body.  Free people were androgynous souls who happened to land in whatever bodies they landed in and didn't particularly care which body as long as the soul was free to be what it wanted to be.

I don't have an internal sense of being gendered.  And for much of my life, influenced by the zeitgeist of the 1970s, I thought that when people claimed to have an internal, intrinsic experience of gender, it was nothing more than societal conditioning and stereotyping.

Reading and hearing the experiences of transgender people challenged that assumption.  At first I dismissed it as a case of Old Stereotypes Die Hard, that men simply didn't feel free to adopt "feminine" traits as men, and women didn't feel free to adopt "masculine" traits as women.  But eventually, with more reading and more listening and more pondering, I realized that the matter of gender identity runs more deeply, at a biological level, than "what society says," whether conforming to or contradicting those social norms.

And it finally occurred to me:

Maybe my experience isn't everyone's experience.

And I think, if one by one each of us can begin to grasp that simple idea--that maybe our personal, individual experience of life on Earth is not necessarily a universal norm shared by all--then we just might come a little closer to peace on earth and goodwill towards all.

We don't have to understand everything about every human being to accept them as fellow human beings.  As long as you do no harm, do what you will.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Aging happens, when we're lucky

I suppose there's nothing terribly remarkable about it:  Having passed the half-century mark, I find myself comparing myself to others around my age.  How is it that some of the people my own age are starting to "look old"?  I don't feel old.  I don't look old.  Even if I no longer pass for twenty, a combination of lifestyle choices, genetics, and sheer luck do help me look young for my age.  One person recently suggested that my generally cheerful, optimistic outlook contributes to preserving a youthful appearance.  I can definitely agree that it helps to preserve health and well-being, whatever the effect on my outer appearance may be.

But why do I give a damn in the first place?

Like many people who reach life's midpoint, I find I still have many things I want to do, goals I want to accomplish, visions for myself and for my life that I have yet to fulfill--visions that, as with many of us, I thought already would have been fulfilled by now.

And yet I also intend to live to be at least ninety.

Here's the thing:  If I intend to live into my nineties, I have four decades waiting to be filled.  If I had already accomplished everything I wanted to do with my life, what would I be doing with those four decades?  Rocking in a rocking chair griping about how things ain't the way they used to be back in my day?

The secret fear, of course, is that I won't actually make it that far.

Fair enough.  Life certainly throws its share of curve balls.  Yet on reflection, I'd rather plan and prepare for more years than I have than sit around for decades waiting to die.  A truly successful life, however long it lasts, should always end with some business left unfinished.  I want my life to be a work in progress right up until the end.

And if I plan to live into my nineties, I need to make peace with the fact that I will not always look forty--and that a well-earned, authentic old age is indeed a beautiful way to be.