Before I start my rant, I need to first explain that ‘work’ and ‘work environment’ are two exclusive terms and occupy two different categories. I believe that humans should always be working; bad things happen when we don’t work. While we certainly do need to give ourselves rest and vacation, we also always need to have some kind of hobby, volunteer position, extracurricular activity to be involved in; we can’t just work a 9-5 job. I believe the work environment, itself, is SO against our innate human existence:
Biologically, we are not meant for Corporate America: As humans, we are meant to be frolicking in the fields, picking berries, and gathering water from the well. We are supposed to be out in the sunshine, hibernate in the winter months, eating a little bit of dirt on our radishes. Don’t get me wrong–I love living in a technological society where these daily tasks are easy, but I think it’s biologically and physically detrimental to us when we must sit behind a computer screen all day, breathe in stale air, whither under the florescent lights, which, I believe, has caused an increase in depression, obesity, anxiety, etc.
We are forced to work with people we do not get along with: I think it’s so unfortunate that, they way the world is set up, we are forced to constantly be around people we do not like. When we stand at the bus stops, in school, at our jobs, in our neighborhoods–we never get to pick which people surround us. As Americans, we spend a majority of our lives WORKING, and it’s always really painful and draining on our energy to constantly be surrounded by people who do not make the same lifestyle choices as we do; the people I choose to hang out with on my free time would not always be the people I’m forced to work with, but I spend more time at work than I do with my friends…
Work plays on all our bad human tendencies: I believe that, as humans, we are innately jealous, selfish, competitive, etc.–all not very positive, and potentially self-destructive, behaviors. And, because we live in a capitalist society, these traits are often enhanced and encouraged in the work environment. I hate it when my jealous nature comes out, but when there’s a teacher whose lesson plan is better than mine, I can’t help but think negative and judgmental thoughts (both about myself and the other teacher) when I sense my nature being threatened. I hate it when I interrupt conversations just to have MY OWN voice heard, and when I’m aware of my selfish acts, I immediately regret how I handled that situation. When I hear of another server making more money than I do, I immediately start scheming ways to out-tip them. And, of course, if we constantly have these bad human filters over our interactions with our co-workers, and our abilities to perform our jobs, are negatively impacted (along with our energy levels, our moods, our happiness meters). Work instigates these bad human tendencies. While these same tendencies sometimes show up in other venues, work definitely exacerbates and incubates them.
Work forces us to suppress our relationship-tendencies: Despite those bad human tendencies, I also believe our primary drive in life is to develop strong relationships with other humans. Looking back, if there was one thing I could re-do in my career, it would be to separate my private life from my work life, because, as I’ve learned, when you mesh the two together, bad things happen (which is SO against how we work as humans). We are there to WORK (not develop friendships), and as your co-worker, I don’t need to know about how many guys you hooked up with last weekend, I don’t really need to know about how insecure you are about your nose, and you can’t really treat me like you would a family member. But, because as humans, we naturally desire relationships with others, and because we spend so much time working, these boundaries often get blurred. As your co-worker, when you tell me on Friday your dog is sick, I’m concerned all weekend, but since we are co-workers, I can’t really check up on you until Monday, so I must suppress those natural human desires. When you start telling me about your divorce during our break, I’m happy to listen, but inevitably, the information I learn about you changes my perspective (either positive or negative).
So, why must we enter into these corrupt, oppressive, energy-sucking work environments? As humans, I think we are always in a constant state of suffering; because of the way ‘living’ is designed, there are always ways we will suffer, even if the degree of that suffering differs; we will always be a little too tired, a little dehydrated, our stomachs not full enough. We will always have a multitude of stressors, be involved in some kind of traumatic situation, not have as much money as we would hope to go on that vacation. Even when I go to yoga, I’m suffering; I’m too hot, my ab muscles hurts, the sweat dripping down my face itches. But, there is something important about suffering, because suffering teaches us appreciation. I will never know joy if I haven’t experienced pain; I will never know satiation until I know starvation; I will never gain a six pack without work. And, the same thing is true in the work situation. I will never know how wonderful my friends are until I must interact with others. I will never know what kind of pressure I’m immune to until I’m put in a contentious situation. I will never know that I don’t like people who drive Ford trucks if I don’t at least expose myself to them. The work environment, which is so against the grain of human existence, gives us opportunities to learn about ourselves, and to learn about others.
So, how do we compensate for these oppressive qualities and survive in the work environment? First, I think we have to learn how to divorce our identities from our jobs. As Americans, this is often very difficult, because our jobs are often tied to our success, our viewpoints, our social position in society. What I’ve learned is that I love being a teacher, because I can make people laugh, challenge thought, and uplift others, but teaching isn’t the ONLY venue in which I can do that; when I leave my job at “3:15”, I still exist outside of my job. Secondly, I think we need to learn that we do have control over some of these situations; to some extent, I can choose who I interact with. If the people at lunch or my cubical mate do not serve me, I can say “hi” to them, and I probably still have to garner information from them, but we don’t have to hang out on the weekends, we don’t have to each lunch together. Last, I think we need to make sure we are refueling ourselves when we are not working; we are leaving work-drama AT work, we are hanging out with those who fulfill our souls, we are doing things that make US happy.
And suddenly, while the work environment is still the work environment, it becomes a little more manageable…
(And, as a disclaimer, the “I” used in this piece is a rhetorical “I”, as in, myself, but also you, my family, my friends, and anyone else who has expressed these similar struggles of being in the workplace)