Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Let's rebel against living on automatic!

Have you noticed how cops, nurses and sales people have all been trained to use the passive-aggressive crowd-control phrase "you need to" when what they really mean is "I command you to" (or "do as I effing say!"). Next time, consider responding with a thoughtful examination of the statement, with reference to, say, Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

It's the rebellion waiting to happen. 

In our globalized, corporation-run world, all workers who feed you, or clothe you, or deal with your aches and pains, or protect you, or provide you the necessary paperwork to go on going on, have been trained (under penalty of death?) to keep you -- the customer/citizen/patient -- anesthetized, pliable and, most important, willing to pay the price for the goods and services that some middle management technocrat just knows you need.

It's irritating, to say the least.

Borrowing from medicine, let's call it "The Protocol Society," an entire society run mindlessly by providers of services or goods who follow a detailed plan, or protocol. In medicine it serves to ensure a standard, and correct, treatment regime for every particular diagnosis by personnel without advanced medical degrees.

Nurses have an exact list of insanely repetitive questions to ask new patients and teachers in some school districts have their activities prescribed down to 15-minute increments. Everybody has a script and endless checklists ... and don't get me started on customer "service" representatives and salespeople!

The basic idea is that rather than educate people on taking time to think through what matters in their work, it is easier to outline a set of prescribed steps that can be performed by rote. This way it doesn't matter if the teacher failed math or the nurse is squeamish or a cop is a bully. Follow the protocol and everything will be all right.

Take the HMO worker on the phone who asks you, toward the end of a litany of inane questions, "Are you considering doing harm to yourself or others?" Here you were, trying to get a medical appointment and you were being put through the wringer simply because instead of Stage 3 Cancer, you had a loose (but let's say rather painful) hangnail.

"Frankly," you reply, "I'm considering using my special powers to send my arm through the telephone cable to strangle you if you ask me one more silly question."

Have to give him credit, though. Without a change in inflection he responds by asking if you know his location.

It reminds me of my favorite Somerset Maugham quote, which made me howl with laughter the first time I read it in Cakes and Ale years ago:
The Americans, who are the most efficient people on the earth, have carried phrase-making to such a height of perfection and have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on an amusing and animated conversation without giving a moment’s reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication.
Apply that to work activity instead of talking.
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