Office politics. Those are the hardest politics we face—and now they are made even harder by budget cuts and union battles.
A young friend recently said to me, “I don’t want to work where there are politics.” I understood her distress, but I said to her, “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.
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 a messy one. 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 says in the casino, “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 little on the 11-year-old girl that Eleanor Porter created in 1912. Pollyanna is the story of a girl who went through many painful events with very difficult people and was able to remain optimistic and make changes for the good.
Pollyanna lived in poverty, was orphaned, treated poorly and had illness and grief in her life. It’s not that she didn’t feel pain rather she chose to see the world as a good place despite the suffering. While most of us adults know how to toughen up in order to survive Pollyanna’s talent was in dealing with all of the difficulties while keeping her heart open.
It can feel safer to stay with the negative but pessimism is lazy. You can always be somewhat right. 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, our state and our workplaces we get to make that choice. We can moan and groan, or choose optimism. That may just be the smartest political strategy of all.