Chapter 9: On the Job

As behavior modification theories say, overlooking much negative behavior paradoxically is still the best way to effect change.  Then one tries by his own behavior simply to set a good example, reinforcing “good” behavior at the point that it occurs.

As a substitute teacher, I once “changed the rules” by becoming stricter in a negative sense with a class of high school students who were unruly—even though their behavior had actually improved over time.

It is easy to get impatient in such situations, but this says more about you than the behavior.  In this situation as in others, when there is much improvement, I tend to push for it all to be re-
solved, which is unrealistic.

I learned at the public library that people may not really care very much if competence is missing in some insignificant way if in fact they are treated well.  Trying to be too “perfect” equals  a lack of forgiveness (of others as well as myself) and is self-defeating in crucial ways for which the root cause goes unrecognized.

I’ve often regretted getting the Ph.D.  I did it because I bowed to the ego.  Once I was accepted in the program, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Before the fact, though, I had long had doubts that it was the way to go.

And I now know that for me, this dynamic is an indication of a pathway to avoid.  The Ph.D. has sometimes been a barrier between other people and myself—the very antithesis of what I want.

On meaning in life:  “I’m happy with my life, but I’m not doing anything that someone else might not do just as well.  It comes down to a question of what is really important in life, and that seems to me to be the relationships we develop—the ‘people’ factor.”

People’s bad attitudes don’t always mean that I have caused their discomfort.  Disbelieving this is a fairly common, but paranoid, reaction of adult women who grew up after being “good” little girls.  My journal during the period of one job is filled with variations on the theme, “Help me get along with [blank].”  I will never know how many of the interpersonal problems I really caused, and now, years later, does it really matter?  We are all in this together.

Making a careless mistake seems to be unforgivable for Ellen.  Is it because she never for-gives herself for same?  I cringe from her denunciation of my “mistakes” as though I were an errant child.  If one is intolerant of incompetence in the outside world, one is loosely holding a dagger that very easily can be turned to wound self (either by the attack of another or self-infliction).

If you find yourself in the midst of rejecting people, maybe you are electing to resolve old karmic wounds.  This is particularly likely if there is a sense that your co-workers want to think the worst of you.  Be patient.  This too shall pass.

As a part of my job, I used to have to write dreaded “peer evaluations.”  I could never reconcile an evaluative comment as different in any way from a judgmental one.  And both biblical injunctions and A Course in Miracles have given “thumbs down” to judging.

Years away from that period of required evaluation, I still don’t have the answer.  But I know that currently many of my colleagues believe that performance appraisals by administrators and middle management are uselessly subjective and meaningless.  Maybe we are tiring of striving to get kudos from each other, and just want to be left alone to do the best job that we can.

I must try to treat myself with the same loving attitude that I want to treat others, for I will never treat others with an attitude that I can’t sustain within myself.

An instructive directive from A Course in Miracles:  “I can escape from the world I see by giving up attack thoughts.”  I am more guilty of the thought than of the word or deed, though the potential for all three is there.  A former supervisor advised in writing peer evaluations, “Don’t go for the jugular.”  It is seldom (if ever) a good idea to “set him or her straight” by criticism.  Is there really any such thing as “constructive” criticism, or is it all negative?  If we force someone into defensiveness, surely we have done a negative thing.  And defensiveness in the wake of any kind of criticism is the usual human reaction.

I once had a position for which I was not sure I would be reappointed.  I consumed lots of mental energy and worked very hard, trying to ensure that I would be.  Then I had a vivid dream that said that nothing I could do could get me reappointed.  I awoke with the most delicious feeling of well-being and calm.  My journal reads, “In the dream, there was nothing I could do about it, and that released me.”

As it turned out, I was reappointed, though probably not for reasons over which I had any direct control.  Then I married and left that position before I even started on my next term.  So my innermost Self knew the pathway ahead, and gave me a dream that symbolically encapsulated a better future.  “She” was saying “leave” all the while, and it was I who was resistant.

On the workings of karma:  I once attended a writing retreat sponsored by my university.  Interestingly, among the attendees were virtually all the faculty members whom I knew well from outside my “home,” the library.  I was disappointed to realize that these people did not seek me out to talk during the entire three days (although a few people new to the university and to me, did).  From a karmic viewpoint, maybe there wasn’t anything more for me to work out with my casual “friends.”  I stayed at that university only three years, leaving three months after this retreat.

Our school systems have only recently turned, in some instances, to cooperative learning rather than competitive.  And sports activities, with their emphasis on teamwork, have long been recognized as a good training ground for the adult work life.

Toni Packer carries this idea into the religious realm when she asserts, “Striving to attain perfection can result in great virtuosity but it cannot accomplish a relationship of lovingness and care with the people around one.  Rivalry and love do not exist side by side.”

I have a tendency to entrap myself for the unseen future by making decisions that will be hard to reverse without losing face.  I perceive a “good” goal and take steps to commit to it, know- ing that it may involve anxieties that I didn’t bargain for.  Not a very humane way to treat myself.  Would I do it to other people as well?

On motivational rigidities:  “I have too many ‘ought’s in my life.  I just need some time to relax totally.”

I’m not the type for too much discipline in turning out work.  I lose something in my interactions with people.  The work becomes more important than the people.  Not the way to go.

I can’t be too disciplined.  If I require of myself a careful perfectionism in the work of the day, I become rather rigid.  Worse of all, my relationships suffer because they seem to be tangential, instead of possessing the properly central focus in my attention that they ought to occupy.

A trap of the Protestant work ethic:  “I’m trying to be more and more effective in my work, and that perfectionism turned in on myself makes me less forgiving of others who are more casual in their work habits.”

A grab bag of personal advice for on-the-job behavior:  “It helps to go really easy with people at work—keeping egalitarian ideas uppermost; relaxing into the day and not fighting it; listening to intuition (within reason); pacing, with an attitude to enjoy all; non-judgmental, helpful attitudes.”

More “work” reflections:  The paradox is that I get more done as I relax into the day and find time to interact with my colleagues.  And, if interaction is everything, and love of others is Jesus’ “light burden,” this readjustment of time ought to be my priority.  Certainly there is a Higher Law being enacted if, as I have discovered, I am actually more productive when I take time for others.

I feel liberated at work when I’m around my co-workers and realize that I’m not going to act on any ambition to be their administrator.  I can relax–and I do.

My journal entries when I was younger were filled with the expressed desire to do some-thing “meaningful” with my life.  But what is meaningful?  “Being there” for others is right at the top of the list, and that is certainly not a struggle to do.  This suggests that much of my struggle in life has always been essentially meaningless.

On competitiveness at work:  “A more relaxed pace is less threatening to my co-workers and a more humane way to treat myself.”  In my early years, did I fuel some unsatisfactory work relationships by my own competitiveness?

I am always trying to do everything myself alone, but life isn’t lived like that.  It is truly a team effort.  Trying to recapture this thought in the midst of a busy life is not always easy.

Never forget how those on the job influence one another.  Currently we seem to take on more and more, and unfortunately (and in illusion), this seems to leave us less and less time to do anything.  Surely in an era of lean and mean corporations and single-parent families, we don’t al-ways have a choice.  But we have more autonomy than we acknowledge, because we carry over the busyness when there is a choice as well.  We think that in doing a dozen varied things we are experiencing the “good life.”

Maybe it only takes one saner response in a circle of friends or colleagues to start the group back toward a more measured pace in living, more time to savor life.  Will you be the first?

On pleasing people:  “Trying too hard to please is a habit and may make people uncomfortable.”  Several years later, I still hadn’t learned the lesson of this.  I casually told my supervisor at work that I wanted to “please” her in some assignment.  She came back the next day, obviously having considered my statement, with the rejoinder, “You shouldn’t try to please me!”  I was rather surprised, so warped had been my conditioning.  My task is to be a whole person in my work, achieving (or failing) for reasons far more appropriate than the approbation of my superiors.

Giving of one’s self to others ought never to be a burden.  If it appears to be, maybe there isn’t enough love coming through first, smoothing the way.

Why can we see and diagnose other people’s foibles and games so much better than we can our own?  As the poet Robert Burns put it:  “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as ithers see us.”

When I truly meet a stranger, our eyes lock and we are not strangers at all.  I help the person find the library resources that he needs, but I often feel that much more is taken away than reference help.  Often the person comes back to thank me.

In this tired and stressful world, a little empathy may be the best that we can offer, and who knows how very much that might be the very gift needed?

If I let myself get critical (toward myself or others), I won’t be able to make a meaningful contribution, and this latter desire is very strong in me.  It disturbs me that I’m not doing much of anything that would make a real impact in the world or even at my university.

But I keep going back to my old belief that the relationships are everything.  Here and now in my interpersonal contact with others is all that I need to make whatever impact I was meant to make.

When I relax and let that idea dwell with me, I am at peace.

I get a certain expression on my face when I am tired after a hard day but feeling open, compassionate, helpful, patient (it’s hard to say exactly what).  There is something about this look that is very attracting.  Lots of people young and old gaze at me at such times with an admiring look.  It is not a compliment to me so much as an expression of their need for empathy, even from a stranger.

This world can be very cold; it behooves me to cultivate my sensitivity to others for ever and ever greater spans of time.