Archive for December 13th, 2005
A thread on one of the forums I read has given me pause for thought: a major outpouring of empathy and care for a member who has just undergone surgery and needed to talk about other issues. Being on holiday myself has given me more time to think about how all this relates to me, and this entry is adapted from my reply.
I do understand some of what our friend is going through, thanks to a job I had 10 years ago with stupid hours and deadline pressure that was totally unsustainable. It made me physically ill and (in retrospect) mentally too – I was lucky that the physical symptoms made me resign and get out before the mental stress made me do something I might regret.
So I hardened my attitude, yet it started happening again at the next job (contract work), so I became even more careful in choosing what I did. That has limited my prospects, because the pressure on businesses means they want “self-starters” with a “go anywhere, do anything, at any time” attitude, who will take whatever they throw at you without complaint. In short, I’ve found that the only way to keep my sanity is to say No to such demands. I can’t do it all, but I can do some things well on an ongoing basis. My current employer thinks I have an uncooperative attitude, and this is why.
The thing is… the hardening of attitudes towards employers can extend into other areas of your life too, if you are not careful. Most of the time, people only ever talk to me if they want something from me. I do technical support for a living, with constant demands for me to analyze things and answer questions, and I live in a country (Ireland) where the common greeting is “how are you”. You are supposed to answer “grand”: don’t try giving an honest answer to that question, because you soon find that it’s just a stock phrase, and they actually don’t want to know.
In short, I suspect that pulling myself through came at the expense of empathy. Since it was confirmed that others don’t care about me, why should I care about them? I’ve had to work at keeping an open mind towards other people and their feelings – not always successfully. All I mean by this is: you can stop yourself getting hurt if you stop caring, but there’s a cost attached to that. There’s nowhere to draw a straight line between an “open” and “closed” attitude – it’s a constant balancing act on a crooked beam with cracks in it. It keeps you on your toes, but it’s well worth the effort in the long run. In My Humble Opinion, of course.