We are in a recession—or we’re not. Things are getting better—or they’re not. We don’t know whether to get our hopes up or to hunker down. The national and state politics are scary. But it’s the political scene we enter tomorrow morning that will keep most of us tossing and turning tonight.
A young friend recently said to me, “I don’t want to work where there are politics.”
I understood her distress, but I thought, “Then go home and make pot holders.” There is no work without politics because there is no work without people.
Any time we organize ourselves into a business, a women’s club, a church group or a scout troop there will be politics.
The trend toward making the workplace feel like home doesn’t help. By loosening the home and work boundary we get to have—at work—all the goodies that belong at home: sibling rivalry, parental intrusion, and fights about money, cleaning and table manners. Maybe if work were less like home we’d go home to get the things we’re supposed to get there: love, companionship and intimacy.
Another complication we add at work is using the word “team”. I know it’s supposed to be a metaphor for playing nicely together, but we forget what really happens on teams: hierarchy, competition and rivalry. Do you watch March Madness? Then you see great teams –and great coaches-- and a lot of sweating and swearing and glaring.
So, it’s inevitable that we have office politics. Every day each of us carries our emotional baggage to work in an invisible tote bag and then we pick from it throughout the day. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Working with other human beings is a creative process—and that is always messy.
Maybe the best we can do is to try not to draw blood, and to say we’re sorry when we do. But like the sign in every casino says, “You must be present to win.” We need the politics in our workplaces and in our communities to work out who we are and how we get better.
I’m an optimist. I see the messiness of human beings as a good thing. You might roll your eyes and call me a “Pollyanna”, but that fictional girl is not a bad role model. The Dali Lama has very little on the 11-year-old girl that Eleanor Porter created in 1912.
Pollyanna is the story of a girl who went through so many painful events with the most difficult people , and she was able to remain optimistic and make changes for the good.
It can feel safer to stay with the negative, but pessimism is actually lazy. To stay optimistic takes courage. You have to keep believing that things will work out even if it’s not the way you hoped they would.
Now in our nation and our workplaces we get to make that choice. We can moan and groan, or we can choose optimism.