After I wrote and published my blog post last week, after I made some progress at work, after I realized I was feeling pretty good, I checked the news on a break.
Images of angry crowds full of Confederate and Trump flags, rioters scaling walls, open doors to the Capitol, journalists in the basement cafeteria nervously looking around and trying to report from behind masks, staffers and members of Congress crouched behind chairs in gas masks that they’d pulled from beneath their seats, brazen men with feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk…
As bad as the immediate images were, what made them worse was the dread that there was even more behind those images. Information not released to the general public for security reasons. A chain of money and power and influence starting and ending at the very top.
The eyes of a work-from-home nation stopped and watched. I, for one, gave my team permission to check out. I canceled meetings and stopped sending emails, knowing full well that no one wanted an email from me on Wednesday afternoon.
But we’re not, in fact, a work-from-home nation. This is easy to forget, with the jokes about Zoom.
We’re certainly not a nation that is equipped to pivot when we’re faced with the reality of an attempt coup.
Part capitalism, part individualism: if we’re chasing a bottom line or tangible proof of output, then there’s no way taking a half day off or shutting down email or sending people home is good for business.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this—I certainly don’t expect the country to shut down every time there’s a terrible news headline, but a coup seems different, no? Would anyone be surprised if their local shop closed early, if classes were cancelled, if a widget was delayed 24 hours—or 72, or a week—because everyone needed to deal with the fact of a coup? And for those who can’t go home (medical professionals, law enforcement, home workers, etc.), maybe a bit of grace and acknowledgment that expectations might be altered?
I worry about the lack of space we, as a society, provide for grieving, for dealing with loss and challenge. It seems there is an expectation that we do all that on our own time, but when we show up to work that we compartmentalize, we put it aside, and churn out work as if nothing else is going on. And of course, not only was this important after the coup attempt last week, but during the pandemic as a whole. How can we measure success in the same way we did a year ago?
Rather, we leave it up to individual managers, institutions, businesses to decide what to do, and they’re not supported by our government to make hard decisions to close or slow down. It might be better for individual workers to slow down, but what about the income needed to stay afloat? We can say it’s okay to slow down lab work but do we extend grant funding or make it flexible enough to make necessary changes? We tell parents and teachers to give kids a break and that a year of weird school is fine, but then there aren’t adjustments to testing requirements or college application processes. The list goes on, and my point isn’t to list all the examples but to plant a seed of thought that all of us would benefit from dissociating our definition of success from tangible output. From where I’m sitting, success during a pandemic and a coup also includes more hugs, more sleep, more time outdoors.
In the meantime, I think we need to do what we can as individuals to give each other a damn break right now. Even if that’s a little extra wave (since we can’t smile at strangers with our masks) or waving someone through an intersection. How can we, in our own little worlds, make empathy and compassion more important than output and productivity and rushing and deadlines?
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