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I overheard the following side of a conversation on a train journey recently. I’ve replaced the names with initials, though it’s highly unlikely that even with names intact the people in this situation would be directly recognisable.
Nonetheless, I can recognise the situation from my own experience and I imagine that anyone who’s spent anytime in a large-ish bureacracy will recognise it too.
These are the little conversations that we all have but which we treat as if they were unique to us. We don’t really talk about the fact that we working in bureaucracy gets us into these sorts of tangles. When I hear Thoreau’s quote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation“, this is the sort of experience I imagine.
I find it heartbreakingly ordinary.
“…as he was saying (he explained to me a little bit more) it’s.. for me… I went back to him because at half twelve it was like “Right this is what needs to go to C and this is a bit of background, yeah?” And so anyway, next thing I know, on Friday, when I’ve got to my mum’s, I logged on just to see what the situation was. And M, right, had already gone in, and listen, and e-mailed to C to say “Don’t worry C, I’ll pick this up with her” right? wait for this… so C, right (you can imagine my distress) went back and said “Thank you M, it’s good to see *somebody* taking a lead” (pause) I’m not joking… I was absolutely devastated. So then I think, right, “What do I do? I’ve done all this kind of…” So I went back on the back of that to K “It kind of” I didn’t say it pissed me off, “I feel really gutted” or whatever it was, that C might think that I haven’t spent time on this when actually I have (he didn’t respond to that) but, on the back of M’s note saying “Don’t worry C, I’ll pick this up with her”, err… he’s come back and said “oh you know, just be prepared, y’know, make sure you come across as being a leader and all of this, y’know in some ways quite patronising because in inverted commas he’s put because basically he’s saying “We need to watch her because she has much too, much too influence with C” So, you know when you just think, you’re in this bloody, this warzone or whatever you wanna call it and so and y’ so then, and so that had kicked off, and then D had said to me, y’know, she was ha… do a PDP to C “This is to show what I actually had done” Nobody else has had to do that! So I spent… so then I thought, like all of us, I’d kind of started my PDP but when I thought, “God, if this is going to go to C, I’d better do some work on it so I was like, on um, one of the nights she was um, when she needed it by, I was working till 2 o’clock in the morning trying to bloody, to do my PDP and I was completely, you know when you’re just devastated with this whole, what the fuck is happening, d’you know what I mean? Excuse my French. You know, you know and so I was just like, against this backdrop, you know not sleeping and everything, and then D was supposed to see E and he just didn’t turn up. Apparently, you know, she went looking for him and he’d gone to pick his wife up, which isn’t the problem, but he didn’t say to her, “oh by the way…”, you know when you just feel a little bit left in the, left in the whatever? And so, I don’t know, I think “Can things get much worse?” I was talking to D, she says, oh she’s had a conversation with E and, you know, on the, in the vein of what we’ve just said, you know, C expects me to step up and mmm… blah blah blah and I’m like “That’s fine E but you need to then tell me, y’know, how we’re going to cover all these other things that you know I’ve been kind of doin’ and you know,” and then. D, y’know, every, kind of everybody else, a-and she’s going on holiday. There’s complete devastation because it’s like he’s having to beg steal and borrow for people to cover for him, d’you know what I mean? and y’know it’s just not a good position to be in, y’know when, when we’re working so, y’know like, cut-throat, d’you know what I mean?”
“No! I’m glad you’ll be coming back… um… yeah, yeah go on. Oh right, OK then. OK honey, that’s alright, I understand, that’s alright, it’s alright I understand. Yeah. Ah don’t worry, things kind of, things, she obviously, it’s not, it wasn’t her choice to die was it? Without being sort of, y’know…. Yeah. Ah bless her. Ah bless her. No, don’t worry, don’t… y’know the thing is, that… as long as.. y’know… D seems to have been really OK with me this week, you know when you really need people to kind of be, y’know, and um… I… just… for me, it’s really all about, I understand that people know me, y’know like, it’s give and take and I just need E to be able to back me up with just y’know, if I kind of, ask… ask whatever of people, I need to, kinda, have his back up that we can kind of, underst… y’know that that’s understood and um… yeah…. yeah…. yeh…. yeah….yeah…yeah…no, ‘cos the thing is as well, I know it’s gonna take time, ‘cos what’s gone over to D is winging it’s way to me which is OK, but y’know he, it’s how does he, how much does he wanna be… y’know how D was full on wasn’t she with this item stuff, he was a bit, like, optional and I’m like worried, cos I’m like thinking “That’s fine” it’s not it’s like I can’t deal with it, because, y’know because it’s got, it’s not, I mean like S’s now muscling in as if she’s saying “Well she didn’t involve these IT people” that I’ve already involved that like G that we know is a cardboard cut-out. What does G add? D’y'know what I mean? And, and so I have to really manage where I really wanna say, y’know, “Stop tryin’ ta” she’s trying to support… y’know I don’t know I’m a bit, y’know, suspicious… well politics! I know! I know! and so that’s why, my brain is just zazzled and I k now it’s like a broken record and I’m just determined that I’m, I’m just trying to really hang in there, because honestly on Monday, I was absolutely, I was an absolute wreck. And, and cos, I, and I think D had come to see me and said I haven’t been able to speak to E, I’d had a really horrible kind of weekend trying to catch up on stuff and you think actually, you know, I don’t, I don’t want this y’know to be the norm, I don’t want to have to spend every night doing this, basically all weekend, I, I absolutely know that as part of my level I’m going to have to do “as required” but surely that can’t be as required for the last year and a half, that’s been what I’ve doing, I can’t sustain it any more and then to have, y’know, you even query my commitment or, or, d’y'know what I mean? Um… so, I don’t know.. so I think, I just think, “It can’t… please! it can’t get any worse” So I’m really trying to stay positive and think “Now…y’know I can, it can only…. no, I’m just saying, I just got to believe it can’t get any worse and I’ve gotta kind of now try to get, almost try to get, go back up a little bit, you know what I mean? cos I can’t physic… I can’t, I don’t want to be a victim. Y’know? I don’t want to be like… uh, I know… I know… I know…Oh bless you… Yeah, and d’you know what? Don’t ever be… you know I’m telling you because this is what I keep trying to tell myself, you know, at the end of the day, y’know, however daunting things are, at the end of the day, as long as, y’know, we can only do what we can do and as long as we’re pulling together and I’m trying to… and we can influence E as much as we can then that’s, that’s all we can do and cover our, cover ours.. cos y’know, cos, we just have to keep reminding each other… yeah…yeah yeah yeah, we are honey but listen you… yeah, bless you, but you listen, don’t you think about work now though and you do what you need to do Monday and I really… look forward to seeing you Tuesday. Oh don’t worry, don’t worry, oh bless you, no don’t you worry. OK hon, hopefully, I’ll speak to you, I’ll see you and speak to you Tuesday…OK then, yeah, take care… ah yeah, thank you, yeah bye. bye. bye.”
Our public conversations are of one kind mostly. We only know how to debate. The peoplle who hold the levers of power are those who are well-skilled in presenting a case, presenting an incontrovertable argument. They were the kids who succeeded in the debating society who learned to argue for or against something regardless of content or personal, moral positions. Many politicians come from the legal profession, the professionalisation of arguing. We elect mass debaters. This doesn’t serve us. It keeps us going round in circles, the people with truly innovative and creative ideas get sick of trying to connect with people who only want to pick holes in their “case”. When I bring you a solution, you won’t even look at it outside the paradigm of me making an argument for it – except in very rare cases.
When the riots started, news coverage and the public conversation devolved into either “this is a result of the policies pursued by (this) government” or else “this is sheer criminality, pure and simple”. No shades of grey were permissible all ambiguity was to be driven out and removed from view so that it could be a simple question “Who’s side are you on, boy? Who’s side are you on?”
In my view, conversation is the answer. We need to de-evolve a little, become a little less efficient in order to be a lot more effective. We need to install this in our personal interactions with children and in their educational settings. We need to add it to our political systems. We need to learn to recognise when we’re slipping into the old patterns and purposely practice non-confrontational non-argumentative forms of dialogue, not because we’re afraid of confrontation or argument or the emotions they bring up (although doubtless we often are) but because they don’t help us, any of us, (well perhaps only a very small minority of us) to get what we want for ourselves, our friends, our families, our world.
All this has been said before.
Bonus Link: Ray Nichols shared this with me on Facebook the other day, we were talking about it when I was kicking around New Orleans, just takes me a while to remember to blog some stuff…
It’s interesting to me how many times the same questions come up as I hobo my way around. I thought I’d do a series of posts answering some of them.
“So, when are you coming back?”
This one reveals an assumption about what I’m doing, that it’s a thing, it’s a project, it had a beginning and will have an end and then it will be over. And that the timescale is predetermined. Also that when I finish, I will return to London and perhaps pick up where I left off. It’s also tied in with an assumption that I’m avoiding London at other times. When I am in London, and I see people they say “Oh, you’re back!” I don’t see it like that, I always see myself as passing through.
I can’t say when I’m coming back, because I don’t know whether I am “coming back”. I don’t know what comes next, I don’t know how long I’ll be living like this. I will stop when I’m ready to do something else.
Some people find these answers alarming, some find them reassuring.
I’ve got a cold, or something after a weekend in the woods at the Dark Mountain Festival. This is highly unusual for me but I’m sure it’ll be gone after a day sleeping it off…
I need some help sorting out this week please.
I’m going to be in London all day on Tuesday. Then I’m heading to Bude for the annual Jazz Festival on Saturday. So I need something to do/somewhere to be from Tuesday night to Saturday morning inclusive, preferably in somewhere that makes sense between London & Cornwall.
I’ve been having quite a bit of slack time of late (and I’ve a week at the seaside next week) so some work would come in handy, but if you’ve no work, just a kipping place and a desire to have me around, that would be lovely too.
Let me know through the usual channels