Saturday, December 20, 2014

The compromises one must make with injustice in the workaday world

After spending more than a decade of life in the Army and college, I’ve had plenty of time to observe the “real world” in action. This view of the world has been largely influenced by the incongruity of assumption and reality in most people I encounter. Thus it shouldn’t come as a “surprise” that I tend to approach the world “solo.” I like to keep my world neat and tidy without unwanted interference, particularly by those who without care disorganize something I had worked hard to organize to make my living as painless as possible. I doubt that I am alone in this desire. 

Unfortunately, we live in a world where you have to make “compromises” in order to “get along”—especially when the “system” is more favorable to some than to others. This is quite often the case in the workaday world. I knew of one workplace where no fairly-drawn workplace standards seemed to be enforced; and not only was there no comprehension of this inequity by management, it was condoned and deliberately used as a tool to enrich those in-favor and punish those out-of-favor; sometimes the compensation discrepancies could be so vast that it could have been described as violating fair labor practices.  

I knew of another workplace where the issue that caused the most conflict was the lack of adequate equipment to perform one’s job, especially somewhat operational vehicles which are essentially indispensible appendages to one’s daily functioning, like a horse was to the cowboys of the Old West. These conflicts often reached the stage where people are forced to resort to petty maneuvering like hiding away equipment in some remote boondock, for fear that they may be “stolen.” Such acts are the subject of much bitterness and vows of retribution. Management and supervisors knew very well that there was a need to improve both the quantity and quality of the equipment; they just couldn’t convince the people who paid the bills of the need for it. And so the cycle of conflict went on and on without end. Some people took it all in stride, because they felt there is nothing that can be done about it; but others are frustrated by the constant search and seizure routine. 

It shouldn’t be surprising that in such a culture, the belief in “victimization” can easily arise—especially one where racial or “ethnic” cliques exist, or more often, in an environment where women also actively participate in, and any discussion any criticism of their part in this can be deliberately “misconstrued.” It is also a good probability that if you confront a female who is causing a “hostile” work environment by making derogatory or means-spirited comments about co-workers (they call it “sarcasm”), they can claim that they are being “targeted” merely because they are a “female.”

So instead of addressing the issues that create conflict, a training guide on “sexual harassment” might find its way on a table to “remind” people of policy. The photos in one such guide I perused showed pictures of attractive women, of the sort that are generally outside my social or workplace circle, and who I would likely find self-absorbed and conceited. Frankly, most of the places I have worked did not employ anyone who would evenly remotely excite a “sexual” response from even the most desperate character—yet still can be the cause of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” syndromes.

Sometimes it is hard to avoid “victims.” I was once in a QFC grocery store in Seattle, and while I was walking down an aisle I could discern peripherally that one of those self-absorbed superstars-in-her–own mind white female types was walking in the opposite direction with beady eyes glued at me with a look of contemptuous expectation. Just before we crossed paths, I returned her gaze, to which she triumphantly inquired “Looking at my boobs?” Fortunately, she gave away a ready retort: “No, I’m looking at a Boob.”

This person apparently stereotyped me as a “leerer and ogler” because of my presumed “ethnicity.” I must have “disappointed” her immensely. I’d say 95 percent of the time I have a squinty-eyed scowl (think Clint Eastwood) on my face, and 95 percent of the time it isn’t conveying anything in particular. It only softens or hardens slightly depending upon how I am feeling at the moment. This person meant nothing to me; I would likely never encounter her again. Why would I waste my time “looking” at her when I likely wouldn’t have the foggiest notion of what she looked like an hour later? But one thing is certain: All she saw was someone she took to be of a certain group to be stereotyped—rather than a person who could have thought of her as nothing more than one of the local Nazis.

I sometimes see women, who apparently see themselves as “attractive,” wearing sunglasses indoors. Why are they hiding their eyes? Some people (usually men) think it is a “cool” look I suppose, but I think it is just ridiculous. Women, I suspect, want to conceal their eyes so that you don’t see that they are looking at other people, perhaps to see if someone is “leering” at them. My own reaction of people of this sort are that they conceited, obsessed-with-self types who believe they are the center of the universe—in other words, morons. Some women want you to “look” at them to satisfy their own beliefs about men. On the other hand, even if you make a point of not looking at them, this can also be construed as “sexist” because you are denying their belief in their own self-importance.

We know what is not acceptable behavior to a “reasonable” woman—whatever that is. “Making sexual gestures or displaying sexually-suggestive images” according to that training guide, “making ‘sexual’ comments about a person’s figure, making ‘unwanted sexual advances’ or ‘physically touching someone in a sexual way.’” Some of the offending behaviors, however, seem to be defined  by people who chooses to see an action as being “gender” related—or find it useful to call it so—such as “blocking or impeding someone’s movements.” One suspects, moreover, that accusations of “sexual harassment” are sometimes just an effort to avoid confronting one’s own personal failings, and an attempt to nullify the person making such an “offensive” insinuation.  

“What about “super-sensitive” people, or people who just try to get others in trouble by complaining about them all the time? It doesn’t seem fair that they would control the workplace. What about my rights?” Well, you don’t have “rights,” so that’s not a “problem.” The test is: “Could this conduct offend a reasonable person in this person’s situation, taking into account the setting and context of the behavior? If a reasonable person could find the conduct offensive, and the complainant did find it offensive, then it has crossed the line and should stop.”  Again, the tendency is for the bar of “reasonableness” is be quite low, and the complainant may only seeking sympathy in order for some personal fault to be overlooked.

Of course, there will be a “full and fair investigation” of the complaint, but then the training guide goes on to say that false complaints are “very rare.” How can there be a “fair investigation” if that assumption is the standard? Well, such is the society that has been created for us. “Compromise” with injustice and live with it.

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