What I learned about the art of politics working at my last job is both simple and complex; It is simple because if one understands the nuances of high school popularity, there are many, many parallels that can be drawn between the two. It is complex, because we expect it not to be so simple and in our idealism there is much frustration and heartache to be found because it is so simple.
Does this sound too philosophical for a backwards perspective on some silly job?
It might. It should. It will.
Someone once told me that in political bodies (note the small ‘p’) it is more often likely to find a democratic structure resembling a country club — a small group of entrenched long-term members acting as official gatekeepers for others wishing into the same small group — than a true democracy — a small group of short term members accountable to a selection process from a much larger group. Part of me imagines that country clubs are great for those lucky enough to be members, but another part of me is almost certain it is no way to run a balanced and accountable organization.
Readers might mistake this as some sort of commentary on the state of the organization for which I worked. It is not. It’s merely window-dressing for a much narrower and narcissistic tale of job loss. I write this because when I state that the organization where I worked was a ‘country club’ in the political sense, I don’t do so judgingly. It worked for what is was meant to do, and worked far better than some alternatives I could think of. In the long run, it just didn’t work for me.
The other thing that didn’t work for me was that like a real country club (I assume herein) there are years when the members of the club worry about big things that are difficult to control but for which strategy and forethought are valuable: unseasonable weather, the price of gasoline for lawn mowers, or economic conditions that impact the number of casual golfers. And then there are years when the members of the club don’t need to worry about — or simply cannot get their mind around — this bigger picture and spend their energy focusing on the small things: the color of the golf pro’s shoes, the flavors of salad dressing available in the cafe, or the number of those little pencils that are in stock in the pro shop. And from the perspective of staff, the employees of the country club, the latter types of years — the micromanagement years — are more difficult; managers are grumpy, chefs throw tantrums in the kitchen, and the caddies storm off the job when they find out their wardrobes are critically out of fashion with members.
We had one of ‘those years,’ the last year I worked where I used to work. And coming back to the idea of politics, popularity, and perspective it is fair to say that all three of those pieces were neatly aligned to make the life of the staff a living hell.
Not that anyone was to blame. The system, the process, the staging, and the ongoing existence of all those looming outside factors that needed more strategic thinking and less micromanagement all contributed to a moment in time when — votes cast — new people stepped to the tee box and readied their swing at overseeing the difficult shots that needed to be played. That said, it is completely fair to say — and given the fact I’m writing this nearly two years later — that the shot wasn’t a hole-in-one. It wasn’t even par. It was a more of a “let’s call it, uh, eight and get on with the next hole” kind of shot. And I know enough about golf to suggest that really sucks for the end score.
Nearly two years ago now — and a year prior to my last day at work — it was interesting to note that as that first swing was swung, we all — the staff, I mean — had a strong feeling that it was going to be one of ‘those years.’ And we braced, though not hard enough, for a few wild shots and some long, pointless digging in the bushes for lost balls.
Have I milked the golf analogy enough, yet? Ok, so really we sat around in a hotel ballroom, watched the last of our membership trickle out, eating the leftover cookies from a buffet luncheon. I remember downing quite a number of cups of coffee, trying to wake up, as the reality set in that, well… things had most definitely changed.
As I write this little epitaph to that life gone past, it is not my ambition to fire blindly at those to whom I ultimately reported nor those who played a hand in my departure from that organization. The strange thing about country club democracy is that, yes, it is popularity that ultimately matters, and the rest is trivial he-said-she-said kind of debate. At the end of the process, more votes will be cast, more heads will roll, more commoners will rise from the dark corners to fill the gaps. And my perception of what happened behind gilded gates will always be just that: my perception. It could have happened a dozen different ways, and according to the dozen people involved it probably did.
Instead, it is my ambition to make a note, a personal marker in time, of what happened and why I think it happened the way it did. There are five elements to that story: this is the first. The little country club politica for which I worked had a bad year — one of ‘those years’ — and energies that should have been focused upon the broader strokes of economics and ecologies were instead honed in on the little things, already neatly under control by competent staff doing their jobs: trimming the grass, julienne-ing the carrots, and laundering the linens.
So, as I suggested before, what I learned about the art of politics working at my last job is both simple and complex; But knowing that this holds true for almost all aspects in life is probably the better lesson to take away.
That, and I don’t really like golf much anymore.