Questions of self-determination

It has been an interesting past 24 hours…

Last night after completing my shift at Starbucks, I was spontaneously invited for a quick impromptu supper at my co-worker’s apartment.

Augustin was a warm and welcoming host.

I was fed well and drank well and the conversation was very interesting.

We, of course, discussed issues of great import…

Travel, women, politics, women, work, women…

You get the idea.

Talk turned more serious as alcohol entered the bloodstream.

We talked about our homelands, inevitably comparing them to our new home of Switzerland.

He talked about his homeland of Algeria, about how difficult it was to be a Berber in northern Africa, how dictatorial and discriminatory the present Algerian administration is, how he can never go home again because of his politics being objectionable to the powers that be.

Berbers cannot teach their language and are discouraged to speak or write their language.

Algerians are schooled in Arabic and the colonial language, French.

Berbers are unwelcome in their own traditional lands.

They struggle for employment opportunities and are denied basic rights and services other Algerians take for granted.

North African Berbers and northern Spain-southern France Basques, the Kurdish in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, Muslims in Macedonia and Christians in the Sudan all suffer under regimes that enforce their discriminatory policies, even in some cases, past and present, mass genocide.

What Nazis did to Jews was not a new type of behavior in history nor is it an old type of behavior either.

Berbers and Basques long for their own land, as do the Kurdish.

Some groups seek not a revolution against the princes and powers ruling them but only want to be left alone to speak their own language, follow their own customs, practice their own religion.

But those in power either to show their force or claim resources in all lands under their sway tend not to be the “live and let live” type.

On the home front, a horse of a different color but the same theme of self-determination…

The wife and I are frustrated with one another.

She is not happy that I choose to go to Geneva, even though She will be away in Zurich 4 out of 7 days.

Teaching work in St. Gallen and Thurgau Counties has been for me over the past two years an exercise in futility at best and a lost cause at worst.

Back in May, I visited Geneva and was positively received by a few schools I interviewed.

But going away to Geneva means risk.

I might fail and uselessly spend my savings on this risky endeavor without seeing the return on investment I am hoping for.

But being independent, achieving a sense of self-reliance, is worth the risk, though it threatens the status quo, though it shakes the roots of the rules and routines previously in place.

I long for more parity and equality with my wife rather than being dependent upon her.

On the train from St. Gallen to Geneva, I met a wonderfully warm and welcoming woman from Eritrea, waiting tables in the restaurant wagon.

Her country is now in its 24th year of independence from neighboring Ethiopia.

Eritrea suffered religious and ethnic persecution under Ethiopian hands.

Though it still struggles for self-reliance, it prefers the struggle rather than being dominated.

East Timor was almost erased in massive genocide by conquering Indonesia.

Today they are proud and independent countries.

So, what should determine a person’s / a place’s right to declare independence?

In my home province, argument has raged for decades, (Some would argue, centuries.) about Quebec’s right to its own sovereignty.

I think before the Quiet Revolution of the 60s and 70s, the French Canadian in Quebec had legitimate grievances against the Anglo of Canada.

Though the British conquered Canada from the French in the 18th century, the French Canadian far outnumbered the invading English.

To prevent insurrection but to maintain control, the French Canadian was allowed to keep his civil law, his Catholicism and his language, but was not allowed to determine his own destiny or wield any real power over decisions that affected him, like conscription.

And this linguistic apartheid continued even as late as the year of my birth, 1965.

A French Canadian living in the world’s 2nd largest French-speaking metropolis, Montreal, would not be served in a store if he did not speak English.

After the Revolution, English Canadians resident in Quebec began to realize that payback is a bitch.

Children living in Quebec cannot attend an English school unless their parents did so before.

One can have any language on any sign in Quebec as long as the dominant language is French.

But English is strictly forbidden.

Even the department store Eaton’s had to drop the apostrophe from their name to satisfy the tongue troopers of the language police.

Every election separatist parties once again cry for more freedom for the Franco while simultaneously suppressing the freedoms of the Anglo still remaining in Quebec.

Should they have it?

My answer: could they truly survive independently surrounded by an Anglo North America on its borders?

Or are they actually stronger as a group within the Canadian framework?

Should the Berbers have their own homeland?

Should the Kurdish have a Kurdistan?

Or is harmony possible in the existing frameworks?

Should a husband be allowed to work away in a far-off city and struggle?

Or is it necessary for him to remain at home unfulfilled?

Difficult questions all.

We roll the dice.

We take our chances.

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How to convert this barbarian

Everybody’s talking at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes

Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

I won’t let you leave my love behind
No, I won’t let you leave.

(Fred Neil / Harry Nilsson, “Everybody’s Talkin'”)

If I had to ever define myself on relationships or beliefs, this song best captures my mindset.

We are often told that there are three topics we should not discuss in polite society: sex, politics and religion.

Yet pick up any newspaper, visit any chatroom, watch any news program, and what is being discussed?

Sex, politics and religion.

As well there seems inherant in any discussion of these topics an undertone that suggests that having the discussion itself automatically means that sides must be chosen, that one must choose an allegiance and stick to it through thick and thin whether it is sensible to do so or not.

Speak your mind and, lo and behold, others will assign you a pigeonhole to describe and define you, thus limiting your ability to look at or discuss an issue from more than one point of view.

Express a preference and voices will be raised suggesting that you must then be against anything that is not that preference.

For example, try a discussion about communism or gay rights or immigration or birth control, begin to talk about one side of an issue, then sit back and wait for the coyotes to attack.

Sometimes I despair that intelligent open-minded objective debate can ever happen anywhere at anytime.

I acknowledge that sometimes I too have to back away from my own opinions, to consider other points of view, other histories and ideas than my own.

But as dangerous a minefield as these discussions are, I think we still need to have them as they are what makes us human.

So, let’s look at religion today.

(See Buddha on the Mosel of this blog.)

In my circle of friends scattered worldwide I am proud to acknowledge that they share more than one religion amongst them.

I love and respect them, whether they be Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian, as they happen to be.

Some of them are quite devoted to their beliefs.

Others are believers more in name rather than spirit.

I embrace no one particular religion but instead search for a commonality of humane belief amongst them.

I admit to having a problem with the idea of a personal God / gods, as the biggest argument used to prove the existence of God / gods is the inability to disprove it, the idea that because God / gods can not be proven not to exist that therefore He / they must exist.

I also admit to having a problem with the mentality that some religious followers have of an Us-Them mindset, the idea that if you are not with us, if you are one of them, then you are therefore wrong and an enemy of ours.

I think every religion has something valuable to teach us – about morality (the difference between “bad” and “good”), about dealing with the shortcomings of life (sorrow, pain, disappointment), about making sense of the world when unseen forces are at work (sickness and death, natural phenomena such as the weather), about dealing with the inevitability of death and finding comfort and solace in the idea of some thing or some place beyond the reality of this existence.

This is why religion exists, why it should exist and why I think it will always continue to exist, despite it often being a source of conflict throughout the history of mankind.

What causes this conflict is the inherant inability of so many of us unable to “live and let live”.

So many of us have an unquenchable zeal to convert others to our way of thinking whether others desire this conversion or not.

Sometimes this conversion attempt has been made through the power of persuasion.

Too often in our dark history this conversion attempt has been made through the force of arms.

Centuries have passed and yet even today the “hard sell” attempt to convert others continues.

So, here it is, an idea that is tried very rarely, yet seems to be the most powerful method of all.

Lead me to your religion by example.

If I see that your religion makes you happy…

If I see your devotion to it unfailing, regardless of environment or circumstances…

If I see your religion as a source of comfort and solace for you…

If I see your religion as a guide to your behaviour which embraces others humanely…

Then no religious broadcast…

No sermons on the mount…

No knife to my throat or gun to my head…

None of this will be necessary.

Because I will see the contentment and joy your beliefs give you and this will make me curious and make me want to know more about the source of your well-being.

If you can be a Hindu in a Christian environment and still remain true to your faith and your faith sustains you, I will notice.

If you can be someone who will not eat pork or beef or drink alcohol when all those around you eat chops and steak and consume spirits, I will notice.

If you can don a turban or conceal your body modestly even when doing so alienates you from others, I will notice.

I may not automatically agree with all of your practices or tenets but your example and the security it gives your life will make me stop and ponder and pose questions.

And, perhaps, maybe one day, I may find myself sharing time with you in your home and in your place of worship once I begin to understand the faith that sustains you.

So, my religious friends…

So to religious leaders and followers…

Learn the virtue of patience and lead by example.

This barbarian will notice.

Pieces of flair

I was asked the other day by Roger, a Starbucks partner and shift manager, what was my favourite film, and I must confess the suddenness of the question had caught me off-guard, especially as it is so difficult to narrow down just one title from the many movies I have seen and enjoyed and in many cases have collected at home.

But after much thought, long after Roger has forgotten what he asked or what I had responded, I have come to the conclusion that the film I have watched and re-watched the most is the quiet little film, Office Space, (Alles Routine, in German), a Mike Judge comedy about the world of work, with sterling performances by Ron Livingston, Stephen Root and Jennifer Aniston.

It is the story of computer programmer Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) working for a soulless firm obsessed with insignificant minutae, like cover sheets on TPS reports, at a job he hates, who, after hypnotherapy gone awry, becomes an unrepentant office anarchist.

His girlfriend Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) is a waitress who also hates her job and is criticized by her employer for not having enough enthusiasm because she only wears the mandatory 15 “pieces of flair” (buttons pinned to the uniform suspenders) instead of voluntarily wearing more.

The way Peter rebels against the bureaucracy is priceless and powerfully stated with simplicity:

“Michael (his co-worker), I did nothing.

I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be.”

“The thing is, Bob (one of two “Bob” consultants brought into the firm to evaluate the employees to justify down-sizing), it’s not that I’m lazy.

It’s that I just don’t care.

It’s a problem of motivation, all right?

Now if I work my ass off and Initech (the aforementioned soulless company Peter works for) ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime.

So, where’s the motivation?

…my only real motivation is not to be hassled.

That and the fear of losing my job,

but you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

I wish every manager of every company saw this film.

I was reminded of this film last Friday at work at Starbucks.

Now, working at Starbucks is a stressful job even at the best of times, what with serving problematic customers, maintaining proper levels of cleanliness, following the myriad multiplication of rules and regulations set by faroff Seattle, dealing with the quirks of managers and fellow partners…

The list goes on.

Now take this stress and multiply it a hundredfold when higher management, out-of-store higher-ups, decide to come a-callin’ and inspect us.

Suddenly everyone who works at the store goes banana burgers.

Every detail that can be mastered and perfected is attended to, as we half expect the grandmasters of SB to come by wearing white gloves to inspect our ceiling vents for dust.

Because I only work 20% at SBs (a reference to the number of hours per week I work rather than the amount of energy I expend on the job) I had not witnessed an inspection tour before last Friday.

Our assistant manager, who clearly needs a boyfriend, showed up for work at 0400 to ensure all was in order.

Shift managers paced the premises like caged tigers waiting upon feeding time.

Humble baristas like myself were made to do our duties more diligently than common sense dictated.

Customers barely had time to finish their beverages before we would swoop in and grab their dirty dishware.

The store gleamed like a diamond.

We perfomed like a Swiss stopwatch, efficiently, professionally, competently.

I felt as proud as a father watching his son in the Marines perform in a martial parade.

We were…inspirational.

Then, enter stage right, along came operations manager, Captain Quality.

He says little to us, the drone bees, but instead spent most of his time on his mobile phone communicating with our manager, conspicously absent from the madness, our district manager and Zürich management.

For the six hours I witnessed Captain Quality amongst us, he sat staring at his laptop at one of the inside tables and studied with great intensity a website for finding real estate in Zürich.

His only comment regarding our operations was the exact positioning of our name shields upon our green aprons, the positioning of which he had us change at least three times.

I am certain if we asked him he could have told us how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

Now, the socialist rebel in me felt offended by all this.

Our team broke our backs to ensure quality and performance were nigh perfect and we were as inconsequential as ants underfoot on a sidewalk.

Now, here is the part of the story wherein you need to pity my poor shift manager Bryan.

Bryan is an Englishman, and anyone who knows anything about the English knows that generally the English hate dramatic scenes or raising a fuss.

Now, yours truly is not made of this noble stuff.

I loom above the rest of my co-workers due to my sheer size and bulk of body, and though I am usually just a great big ol’ pussycat, I am, unlike most Canadians, not soft-spoken (having been raised by a hard-of-hearing foster father) nor discrete (having been raised in the countryside rather than amongst sophisticated city slickers).

So, I am almost certain that my expression of what I really thought of Captain Quality and his grand inspection did not go unnoticed.

Poor Bryan couldn’t decide whether to shoot me or himself.

Especially when I loudly sang from the back kitchen, where Bryan hoped to minimise my presence, Neil Young’s song “Old Man”, transposing the words “old man” with “ops man”.

“Ops man, look at our store.
We’re a lot like you were.”

Well, it was an OK job at Starbucks while it lasted.

Questions of character

The human mind is a strange thing.

This is a truism I have noticed since I first became aware of the world outside myself.

This is a truism I still encounter on a daily basis whenever I find myself amongst other people.

Two conflicting trains of thought converge and clamour for dominance in my mind this morning.

I recall a scene from Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins where Katie Holmes, as Rachel Dawes, tells Christian Bale, as Bruce Wayne:

“It doesn’t matter who you are underneath. It’s what you do that defines you.”

The mind also recalls the Biblical story of Jesus saving a woman accused of adultery from stoning.

By simply bending down on the ground and writing the sins of her accusers in the sand, he challenges them saying:

“He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”

A recent conversation with a friend about a mutual acquaintance had us on different sides of the fence regarding our topic of conversation’s character.

I condemned him for his morally grey private life and his organizationally questionable work habits.

My friend, while acknowledging the acquaintance’s weaknesses, revealed aspects of his imperfect past to put his present actions into perspective.

As a teacher of language I find myself noticing that my effectiveness in improving a student’s ability to communicate in English as a foreign language is largely dependent upon the student’s personality.

I try to motivate the student as I impart new language skills, but unless the student has already determined that he / she truly wants to learn, then, and only then, will my efforts bear fruit.

As a Starbucks barista, the desire to motivate someone is more subtle.

To help feed the ever-hungry maw of the Starbucks’ stockholders, it is expected that the humble barista do all that he can to encourage customers to buy as many of our products as possible.

Though the bean counters and marketing gurus of Starbucks tend to lean towards the hard sell, I found myself more effective a salesman by simply offering the customer options, show what advantage an option has and then let the customer’s own desires set the tone.

So, for example, Starbucks is presently encouraging us to promote our pumpkin spice lattes and our Guatamalan blend beans, but I find that doing so directly, focusing on what I want them to buy rather than trying to find out what they want, is an exercise in futility and wasted breath.

So, if a customer doesn’t know what he wants, I mention the lattes.

When a customer orders a coffee, I ask if they want it stronger or milder.

If milder, then the Guatamalan blend has sold itself.

But where being a barista differs from the job of a teacher is in the surprising depth of interactions between people.

Of course, much of the barista day is focused on the rapid-fire quick contact with passing customers en route from one destination to another needing their caffeine fix.

But human interaction becomes fascinating when lingering contact is established amongst ourselves the staff or with regular customers.

Here, the barista becomes a priest, a father confessor, a bartender.

It never ceases to amaze me what regular customers and work partners will confess to me.

I am also humbled and astonished how close quarters and regular contact compel and reveal past histories to and from members of staff.

So much of the human experience seems on display during my hours at Starbucks: victories celebrated, defeats mourned, problems encountered, stress fought against, fears exposed, friendships strengthened or fractured.

The drama of life in all its splendor and complexity is laid before my wondering eyes.

A regular customer tells me of his ongoing struggles with his ex.

Another tells me of the fear and courage she has as she returns back to academia to get her law degree and truly help humanity more than she could previously.

A barista partner reveals his desire to study at far-off University of Singapore. leaving me speechless at the uniqueness of his dream.

Another regular customer reveals a roller-coaster of past and present psychological problems bravely contended with and dealt with a courage and hope that surprises not only others but especially himself.

Yet another coyly shares her excitement at having finally found the love of her life and the profound deep joy that this discovery has given her, an inner joy and a deep sense of emotional satisfaction and psychological peace.

I’ve had customers tell me in great detail their sorrows and joys in their jobs as well as their private lives.

I am honoured and moved that they feel I am worthy of their revelations and confessions.

When I listen, truly listen, to those folks eager to share their lives with me, I can’t help but ponder what is truer: our self-analysis and perspectives or the actions we take in our lives as viewed by others.

I think of my foster cousin Steve who last week received a medal of honour from our provincial parliament for his efforts to keep Canadian teenagers in school.

Having grown up with Steve, not only am I aware of his noteworthy attributes but as well aspects of his character that are not so infallible.

I admire him more because I know the weaknesses and fears that he has had to overcome to achieve his goals.

(See A sense of accomplishment: My favourite SOB of this blog.)

I think of the drunk I met on the early morning 0530 train to St. Gallen yesterday.

He tried to generate friendly conversation with me, but desiring a more peaceful commute I changed seats so I would not have to talk to him.

I judged him by his sloppy appearance, his alcoholic breath and loud manner, yet his travelling companion, a Rottweiler the size of a small pony, loved him unquestionably.

Maybe the resolution, the halfway mark, between these two different trains of thought going their two separate ways can be summed up by the adage:

Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Confessions of the Batman

A fortnight ago, before the breeze off Lake Constance turned brisk, Ute and I were visited by a denizen of the dark, a creature of the night.

A bat had somehow found its way into our apartment.

It was an hours-long struggle to get the helplessly lost and confused little fellow out.

His visit (I assume it was a “he” as girl bats are much smarter!) and the events of the past week remind me of the origin story and subsequent career of the DC comics character Batman.

It is a rare Westernised person who doesn’t know the tale of Bruce Wayne, the Batman.

A young boy is present when his parents are gunned down in an alleyway hold-up.

The boy uses his fortune to train both his mind and body in crime fighting techniques.

The man tries to fight crime as an ordinary man, finding that criminals are unintimidated.

A bat crashes into his mansion.

Remembering his boyhood fear of bats when he fell into a batcave below his family’s estate, he adopts the bat as his symbol and becomes a vigilante.

Batman, after years of solo crimefighting, would not only take on sidekicks and inspire other bat-themed heroes, but would also be one of the founding members of the Justice League of America, whose ranks would include Wonder Woman, Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, just to name a few.

When the boy witnessed his parents’ murder, he could have easily turned out quite differently than he did – a theme explored by DC Comics in their animated movie, Crisis on Two Earths.

The Crime Syndicate was an evil reflection, a dark collection of evil counterparts, to the Justice League.

So, Superman’s evil “twin” was megalomaniac Ultraman, Wonder Woman’s sadistic “sister” was Superwoman, the Flash had Johnny Quick, etc.

In the climatic battle to protect all alternate realities from complete destruction, Batman battled his doppelganger, Owlman.

Owlman commented to Batman how easily Batman could have become as anarchistic and nihilistic as he was.

Batman’s response?

“We both looked into the abyss, but you blinked.”

On Friday night, after a Starbucks night shift, I went out for a beer with friend and co-worker Bryan.

Like my other colleagues, Bryan knows very little about my life pre-Starbucks (I’ll have been there a year this November.) and beer loosened my tongue and inhibitions.

So I told him how I was raised by wolves in the depths of the deep majestic Canadian forest…

No, just kidding.

I was born at a time when my biological folks were in the middle of a nasty divorce dispute.

My American mother took me and left my Canadian father to raise my brothers and sisters on his own.

She was a woman who loved her youngest, but, between bouts of both physical and psychological illness, she would drift in and out of my life, raising me on her own and then letting others raise me before reclaiming me, again and again.

This “here today, gone tomorrow” process repeated itself a number of times until I was four when she went down to Florida for her health and died in Fort Lauderdale from cancer.

I have little memory of the first decade of my life, but future research would reveal that I was placed by the province of Quebec in many different foster homes until my last one with a spinster housekeeper and a retired bachelor labourer.

(See Alex Supertramp and Canada Slim of this blog.)

As any adopted or foster child will attest, the need to know one’s origins, as irrational and painful a process it is, is a drive and obsession that haunts him until answers are unearthed.

(Why was I rocketed as a baby from Krypton?)

My search for self would result in hitch-hiking travels from Montreal to St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Key West, Florida, over to California, up to Vancouver and back to Montreal.

I entered the States with $20 Canadian dollars in my pocket.

Eight months later, I re-entered Canada with $20 US dollars in my pocket.

In between I was sustained by my wits and the amazing generosity of average Americans I encountered along the way.

I had many adventures from the frightening to the fantastic and met many people from the weird to the wonderful.

Bryan marvelled at my tale.

In his experience he had heard of many a foster child of similar background ending up addicted or mentally ill or in prison.

(Actually, the last place and I did meet on a few occasions, but that is a tale for another time.)

He was surprised that I was so rational, so optimistic an individual.

(Clearly he doesn’t know as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote:

“In the brightest light lurk the deepest shadows.”)

I don’t think I can adequately explain why I am who I am except to say when I compare myself with others less fortunate:

“But for the grace of God, go I.”

Of course, like most folks, I have my own emotional baggage, my own psychological scars, but I can only continue to hope that my past has made me stronger and that what was learned from it makes me more sensitive and humane a human being.

Bryan was also surprised that I did much of my travelling, pre-meeting my wife, with little or no security.

I can only say in retrospect that I was convinced that if I had waited until conditions were ideal before leaving, I might never have left.

I had already met too many people who waited until money and time were ideal, only to find that circumstances, usually in the form of ill health or misfortune, would never permit the realisation of these travels.

Granted, a hand-to-mouth existence is not the ideal way to see a place…

(Even Forrest Gump had a fortune to sustain him when he ran across America.)

…but discovering places only ragged people know is an education in itself, and one really begins to understand a culture by how it treats its disadvantaged.

In my “wasted youth” of my 20s I would hitch the above-mentioned route as well as other hitching adventures along the Mississippi and in Arctic Canada and Alaska as well as in Britain and continental Europe.

(I would also do a fair amount of actual hiking / walking in my home and native land of Canada as well as a wee bit of meandering in Europe.)

And though these travels were never career-enhancing in this capitalistic document-obsessed culture I live in, I still have no regrets for the path I chose to travel.

As to what lies ahead, I remain as lost and blind as our nocturnal visitor, but not knowing…

Well, that’s half the fun, eh?

The wonderful world of work

On three different occasions I have witnessed a co-worker cry.

Many times I hear co-workers complain about their jobs.

I recall a beloved co-worker Vanessa, of Macedonia, (a country in the throes of civil unrest on a scale not far removed from Syria’s problems), who remarked to me that the job was not at all living up to her expectations.

Last night just after work I had a profound discussion about work with my shift supervisor Bryan “Chicken Legs” and we discussed the phenomenon of promotion and who and how people get promoted.

All of this has made me think about my own experiences with the wonderful world of work as well as my own hopes and expectations for employment and I am trying soberly and objectively to look at why work is so often a “four-letter word” for so many, including myself at times.

I don’t know if I will be expressing any truisms here so rather than make too many overgeneralisations, let me, for the record, simply say what work has meant for me.

First, employees and employers are completely different animals, despite the similarity of some of their desires.

As an employee, I ask myself what can an employer do for me.

The boss asks himself what can I do for him.

Though we both ask the same question: “What’s in it for me?”, the selfishness of this question clearly leads to conflict right from the start.

An employee generally begins a job with the idea that if he works hard and does his job well, then he’ll be rewarded.

Some even imagine that if one is a good person of honour and integrity then this honour and integrity will be returned.

The idea of getting what you think you deserve is the source of many a dispute and disappointment in the work world.

I look over my own spotted “career” and see examples after examples of where merit and dignity go unrewarded and unrecognized.

Case 1: Ottawa, Canada

I got promoted to a position of shift supervisor over data input operators at a credit card producing bank.

My first duty was to fire a friend as he was consistently five words below the expected input a typist was supposed to produce.

The friend was married with a baby on the way.

I refused and pleaded for time to allow him to improve his efficiency.

My boss wouldn’t budge.

I set the record for the shortest lasting promotion in the history of the company.

We both were on the streets that day.

Though I did “the right thing”, which I still don’t regret, my good deeds and intentions meant little to the company.

Case 2: St. Gallen, Switzerland

As part of my duties as head teacher, I was required to visit company executives and teach them business English in their offices.

In a mad dash from one company to another, I missed a step, fell down and badly damaged my right wrist.

As a result I was hospitalised and missed a number of weeks from work while the wrist healed.

My employer was badly inconvenienced by my accident as I had not only administrative duties but as well the bulk of the school’s teaching hours, so he distributed the teaching between himself and the other teachers and assigned the administrative duties to a secretary.

Realising he could do without me, upon my return to work, my employer then proceeded to make my worklife a living hell to a point where remaining at a school where I was clearly no longer welcome was no longer a sane option.

The employer cared little for my performance and record as he did about the potential benefits of making my position obsolete.

Second, there is the Peter Principle in action, where a person is promoted to a level wherein he becomes incompetent.

Companies do realise that if an employee has remained with the company a fair amount of time that it is bad for morale if that employee remains unpromoted.

But being promoted does not always mean that the employee can handle the duties the new position entails.

At the same time, other more competent employees might be better suited to the new position but are denied the position because they were not at the company long enough.

And, of course, in the rarified air of top management, promotion to head positions is more a matter of reputation and networking rather than a proven track of performance, thus a politician may find himself as chief consultant for a major company, though he may have never spent a day before working for that firm.

And, interestingly enough, a politician’s poor job performance in industry still doesn’t affect his political future.

Case Three: A co-worker had been with a firm for a long time.

She, as well as everyone else, recognized she had been there awhile and remained unpromoted, so finally to silence her dissent and because she did provide valuable skills to her job, she was promoted.

Despite time served, still many objected to her promotion as she was rude to anyone who had no power over her, but she got promoted as the perceived costs, risks and benefits of promoting or hiring someone else outweighed the costs, risks and benefits of promoting her.

Case Four: Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney bankrupts his former employer, gets a golden parachute nonetheless, gets elected Prime Minister and today is still advisor to many companies and gives expensive speeches around the world, despite being reviled by those Canadians old enough to remember him.

Third, much depends upon your relationship with colleagues and administration.

Herein lies my greatest folly and clearest weakness.

I am, without a doubt, one of the world’s worst networkers.

I do my job, in fact, take pride in it and do it to the best of my ability, but once the job is over I dash away home determined to keep my private life private and not become morassed in the politics and games-playing of work (which, by the way, because of human nature, is impossible).

I know I am usually well-liked wherever I have worked as I am polite with everyone, try not to be judgemental or prejudicial against anyone, am able to have an intelligent discussion and am the type of person others would enjoy having a beer with.

(Though there are some former students of mine that might disagree!)

But there remains a reluctance on my part to interact with colleagues, because we spend so much of our lives together already, because interaction with person A prejudices person B against you, and because, despite my public persona, I remain a relatively shy person, the networking I should do, I don’t.

And, at the end of the day, it is easier to promote a friend than it is a stranger.

So, I think to myself, as I think about those jaded and disillusioned about their jobs, that there must be more to life than remaining unfulfilled in 80% of our adult lives.

And, I think it all revolves around perception of time.

Most of us believe that getting promoted is a reward for past performance.

It isn’t.

Bosses and companies do not reward so much on past merit as much as they invest in your future contribution.

Their perception of you, regardless of whether it is valid or not, is the determining factor.

So, much to my wife’s eternal disappointment, her husband will probably remain a humble teacher and humble part-time barrista, because he chooses not to care about how he is perceived for future promotion as much as he cares about how he performed on the job today.

(One can almost hear the chuckle of divorce lawyers!)

In a world that defines us by the job we do, I choose not to let my work define my life.

I am more than my job.

I work to live.

I don’t live to work.

What is needed to make work my passion is the sense of doing something valuable with my day that, in its own small way, makes the world a wee bit better than it was.

So, if my students learn something from me that they hadn’t had before and if my customers’ day is a wee bit brighter because of my friendly service, then I take satisfaction in that.

The rest remains only icing on the cake.

Hurrah for Folly-would

Gosh darn it…

Why are those “liberals” so hard on “average” citizens?

Why do liberals condemn ordinary folks so much for simply wanting to protect their families and homes?

I mean, let’s just look at things from our point of view.

We all know the surety of things we believe in…

– When a white cop shoots or strangles an unarmed black man, we know that this is just simply an “isolated incident” and, of course, you can judge a man by the colour of his skin, because, after all, it is all really just a black and white situation.

Why must the liberal media keep suggesting that there is a racial problem?

– When thousands of people arrive on our shores seeking refuge from war or famine or disaster, we know that their true agenda is to take from us what was taken from them, because we did the same things when we came to the Americas, Africa, Australia, Oceania…

– When someone applies for welfare or social security or unemployment benefits, we know that they don’t really need the money, but instead are using our hard earned money to go surfing and buy cigarettes and booze.

– When someone begs for change on the street, we know that they will use the money on drugs or booze.

Why can’t they get just get a job like the rest of us?

Because anyone can find a job if he simply wants one.

– When we send planes to bomb innocent civilians, we know that we are liberating them and there will always be “collateral damage”.

(Their resources are not at all important.

This is a cause for bringing democracy to those poor wretches.)

– One of “their kind” did something horrible.

Clearly this is an example of how the entire barrel of apples is rotten.

– We may be armed to the teeth, but that poverty stricken backward nation may have the potential to defend itself, so clearly they are a threat to our way of life.

– We know that guns don’t kill people and we will shoot you dead if you ever try to take away our guns.

– When two people love each other there should be no obstacle to their getting married, unless, of course, they shouldn’t be married because they practice unholy practices that go against our interpretation of holy writ.

All I know for sure is that if I ever tried to sell all these issues to Hollywood as a potential script for a movie, it would be rejected.

Why?

Too unbelievable.