Taking Responsibility, Assuming Authority
The many theorists on work, its place in our lives, and impact on our well-being are eager to show us the external culprit in our discomfort: the Great They, the corporation, the rich, and so on. But such talk is cheap. Some of our work stress comes with us into the workplace; we bring it with us and hand it to our colleagues, who hand it on even further. Socio-economic systems of repression do exist, but we choose our response, brutally difficult as this is for us to face. And, often what we perceive to be overweening authority, viewed from another angle, is actually quite constrained in the execution of its purposes. The need for compassion for individuals in positions of leadership and the notion of “consenting to be governed” is a topic for a future post.
Somewhere, of course, the majority of us need to find light, beauty, and other sustenance for the soul, since few of us are made of the stainless metal from which were forged heroic POW’s who walk out of their cells strong and wiser for the experience. The challenge is setting our boundaries and keeping them at the proper distance to serve us, our work, our community, and our own growth in the face of constant, very serious challenges to move those boundaries in or out from our precious, pulsing selves. A clear sense of where we end and the work environment begins helps us retain the precious perspective that can preserve a vision of a humane work environment and support us in taking the actions to make that environment real.
In the face of this perceived over-weening authority and the contracted job market, many people feel compelled to dedicate far more time to their work. For some people this is no burden. We identify them as “workaholics,” though according to Marilyn Machlowitz who researches their lifestyles and work styles, that is not what they would call themselves. They are only “hard workers.” “The few articles about workaholics that have appeared in scientific journals typically emphasize the psychological problems of specific patients,” Machlowitz notes. However, “the workaholics that I interviewed have few such problems.” (Machlowitz, Marilyn (1989). Workaholism: What It Is. In A. R. Gini and T. J. Sullivan (Eds.), It Comes with the Territory (pp. 261-267). New York: Random House, Inc., p 263). She goes on to say:
The good news is that as a group, workaholics are surprisingly happy. They are doing exactly what they love work and they can’t seem to get enough of it. If the circumstances are right that is, if their jobs fit and their families are accommodating then workaholics can be astonishingly productive. But here’s the bad news: The people who work and live with workaholics often suffer. Adjusting to the frenetic schedule of a workaholic is not easy and only rarely rewarding. At work these addicts are often demanding and sometimes not very effective. At home, well, you’ll seldom find a workaholic at home. (Machlowitz, p. 267)