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The Village

Ruminations on the nature and character of workplaces in America from the perspective of a creative.

It takes a village to raise a child! You've heard the saying so many times it's probably lost its edge. What does it mean, though? I hear something very different when this platitude is uttered – rather, 'muttered'. I hear something very different, indeed.

Why do villages matter? They matter because we can do things previously unfathomable. We work together. We operate as individuals in a collection of individuals. The basics of survival are well in hand. Why? Because there's always somebody on the job. And there's always somebody assigning that task to them.

The nature of modern workplaces, however, isn't quite so cut and dry. Eventually, once you've taken care of your needs, it's time to take care of your wants. And we had just invented a neat little thing called money.

In my view there are two villages at play here: the macro-village we call America, and the micro-village of the workplace. I'm focusing on the smaller one. Really, it's just villages all the way down. The macro-village doesn't operate much on the social level. How can it? It's so big! That's what she said. The micro-village is far more social. This is where three cardinal requirements we know so well actually have some sway. 1) Show up on time, 2) Be liked, 3) Do a good job. And you only have to do two of those. Pretty funny how you can just be punctual and a cool guy to keep your position. You don't even have to do a good job! As long as you're smart enough to make people think you're doing a good job. And that's what showing up on time and being liked actually does.

Anyway, on the micro-village level, where social dynamics come into play, there's a lot of talk about 'pulling your weight.' It really isn't enough just to do a good job; it has to be visible because your boss is a human being as well. In fact I've observed something compelling. Quite often profit margins and generally just 'making a buck' take a back seat to social dynamics. I've observed those in management using contrast and comparison as a touch stone to judge your value. John over here is busting his nuts for non-competitive pay! Why aren't you!?

Which brings me to management. The problem is their tactics work.

Managers and supervisors are not there because they're competent in the work being done by the worker. They very well may be. But it's not that alone, or they would still be just a worker. Someone 'killing' at their job stays in that job. They become depended upon to keep propping their side of the tent. No, it isn't their understanding of the work, it's their understanding of people – for good... or for ill. For the worker, it's nearly always the latter.

Keep something in mind, dear reader. At my job, the last four supervisors were outside hires. These people had no experience with the work. They're babes from the foster home put in charge of the entire operation. Imagine training your own boss. Now imagine doing it four times. You know what's up! Why aren't you in the driver's seat?

So, what is the most basic mechanism in any boss's arsenal of management tactics? It can be summarized with another saying: “To get an apple from the tree, you must first reach for the stars.”

You know what I'm on about. Ever get chewed out by your boss for a simple mistake? Did it make you feel like a horrible employee? Did it make you feel personally inadequate, like a lazy fuck up?

What many of you have considered is that, yes, they too have a boss. Someone is putting the 'heavy' on them too, and that's why they're doing the same to you. This sentiment is the result of an intellectual misdirection. What you may not have considered is the very reason it's happening in the first place. It's happening because they fully understand human nature – not because their needs are so dire. They're doing fine, trust me. But they're doing fine because they understand you're just a human and they know full well you'll make mistakes. But they also know if they drive you as hard as they can, they'll get more out of you than they would have otherwise.

Reach far and you're sure to get your apple. How do you like them apples?

But they're not all competent in a good way. Some of these managers require you to manage yourself, instilling guilt. Ever hear your boss say, 'I shouldn't have to tell you'? They're literally telling you they shouldn't have to do their own job. Wait, who's getting paid more than you, again? Oh, that's right! It's the guy not doing his job: telling you what to do.

You can see why I don't get along with my bosses! They know that I know. And I just happen to be one of those folks with very little patience for pretense. Do I really have to offer up all my time and energy on top of playing along with pampered fucks' narratives drenched in half-truths and manipulation?

I suppose if I'm to call this a complete piece, I'll have to revisit that “village” thing. And I'll have to bring back that statement about needs and wants, too. And what the hell, let's make this a triumvirate with a reference back to money. See, in a village it's all about needs. The work makes sense. It makes sense for the individual. It makes sense for that collective. You become the macro-village version of the human cell itself. It's practically necessary. It isn't all the way necessary, but certainly in the 95% area. Without the village we probably would not have survived as a species.

But things go a little weird when the foundations of Need become so strong and dependable as to allow Want its time to reign. If you disagree or haven't seen my point, some examples for you: people make money now just recording themselves playing video games. Others make money designing lawns. Some dude from fuckin' Spokane put faces on little rocks and made millions. So when I hear, 'it takes a village to raise a child', I find it inapplicable to my job. Why? Because what I do is all about the reign of Want. My upbringing didn't make me a part of any kind of village. I don't do anything necessary for the collective. My collective is simply a group of people operating as though what they're doing is necessary. As though it were a village. But that fantasy unravels quick when someone's abandoned to the streets for not meeting two of the three cardinal requirements.

This “village” didn't raise me, it molded me. The distance between raising and molding is precisely the distance between growth and change. One of these is more permanent.

So the lie I have to keep telling myself while I'm driving to work on my busted up scooter from an apartment I'm always on the verge of losing, with an empty stomach dangling from a scuffed rib cage, is:

This. Is. Necessary.