Thursday, October 20, 2005

I Heart Cary Tennis

Cary Tennis, Salon's erudite advice columnist-come-shaman always has something interesting or soothing to say, no matter what the problem. Today he addresses the problem of overwork in our society. I love what he has to say -- it jives with my ideas about working hard but conscientiously objecting the rat race (when the rat race is simply for its own sake, like some kind of one-upping competition to see who can stay at the office longer). Where has it gotten us, professionally or as a collective? Nowhere. So stop it, people. Stop it!

Cary says: "I personally think there are some bottom lines we ought to agree about as a society. For one thing: Eight hours is enough. It's plenty. I have at times worked 12-hour days and more, either because I needed the money or because I believed in what I was doing. But really we've got to start talking about what we're doing to people's lives with all this work. Eight hours is enough.

And I think people have to stop knuckling under to bosses just because they're bosses. Where is our democratic spirit? It's surely not in corporations. Corporations are little authoritarian cultures. I do not see how a democracy can survive when its citizens spend all their days under authoritarian rule. How are we to emerge daily from our 10 hours of ritual authoritarian behavior, and devote the remaining four or six hours to democratic self-rule?

We must begin to bring democratic principles into the workplace.

It's time to start refusing to simply perform as many hours as the boss says. It's time to underperform. Who cares if the work doesn't get done? What kind of work is it, anyway? If you take a break, are you going to leave a child gasping for breath on the operating table? Who's going to die if you take an occasional personal day even though according to your boss, or the schedule, or the project timeline so elegantly represented on your project management software, it's not the ideal time for you to be taking a personal day?

Not the ideal time? So what? There is no ideal time. Stuff happens. Deal with it.

And what is going on with you personally? Why do you have to perform so darned well? Why can't you kind of not do such an incredibly great job all the time? Can't you have an occasional off day? And what of us collectively? What is so great about being the most productive country in the world? What has it gotten us lately but war and the well-earned contempt of everyone who is not an American? What is it getting you, this historic juggernaut? Are you vacationing on the Caribbean, are you basking in diamonds and champagne? Of course not. You're just being played....

I've got roofers on my house right now. They work hard. It's not fun. They don't get to be interviewed on TV about their opinions. They don't sit down all day. They work. But they show up at 8 and by 4 they're packing up. They don't work all day and all night. And neither should you."


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