Instead…

The adage that misery loves company bothers me. I’m all too aware of its accuracy, seeing it manifest in my recent work days as an easing of tension when I discovered that others are having the same problems with computer malfunctions that I have been experiencing. I’m glad for the reduced anxiety that accompanies not being the only one facing this problem, but embarrassed, nay ashamed of feeling relief that the problem is widespread. There is nothing appealing to me about knowing other people are facing challenges!

In my defense, I can also attest to feeling elated when a co-worker “got” a concept she’d been struggling with, thereby joining the company of those of us who were trying to help her understand and apply it. She was happy with her success, but she admitted some of her happiness was relief at no longer being alone in her lack of understanding.

One of the pleasures of my new employment is that the company ethos is very positive and supportive, the antithesis of “misery loves company.” Carping, impatience, brusqueness are not acceptable despite highly stressful work circumstances that have had some of my managers putting in 65 hour weeks for the past six months. The consequence is that all of us slightly befuddled, confused, easily overwhelmed “newbies” are quickly learning to express our uncertainties in the form of positive questions. By seeking guidance it turns out that we have also been identifying glitches in the data systems with which we are expected to work, becoming part of the solution and, in the process, feeling better about ourselves.

I come from a prior work environment which was very different. Above me (fortunately in another office in another city) the ethos was one of jealous attention to any perk awarded to someone else; a pervasive fear of being randomly called on the carpet for perceived faults never previously identified; a daily manifestation of what I recall being told is a military belief that the way to deal with recruits is to keep them complaining. “If they’re distracted with complaints, they won’t notice how miserable they are.”

Within my own domain, I tried to set a different tone, one of teamwork and all of us pulling together to meet the expectations of my out-of-town supervisors. For the most part I was successful, less so in my last few years when tensions associated with the many changes in health care translated to increasingly frequent “audit” visits by staff from the main office. They rarely found problems. They did leave behind the unpleasant taste of their “gotcha” approach to our work.

Sadly, when a serious problem was uncovered and I took responsibility for not having detected it myself, those who initiated it chose to deny culpability and were resentful of being expected to pitch in and make the necessary corrections. Our office did get things put right, but the atmosphere had become one of misery, loving company, dragging everyone down to the lowest unhappy level. Finding myself not strong enough to boost the prevailing mood up again, I resigned.

My new employer is advertising supervisory vacancies, and several people have encouraged me to apply. I have no intention of doing so. If possible, I never again want to be responsible for anyone’s work product other than my own. Twenty years of ‘growing’ employees, helping workers uncover and develop their potential, seeing them move out and up to better paying positions – I’ve served my time as an administrator. I do not believe, now, that just because I have a skill I must use it. Instead, I think I’ve earned the right to only do work I enjoy, which translates to only being responsible for my own work outcomes.

Yes, I mentioned helping teach a co-worker; I’m still oriented to bringing everyone’s skill and success levels up and doing all that I can to reverse misery loving company. I choose to do so voluntarily, not as part of the responsibilities of a defined supervisory position.

What is it about having a responsibility that converts a satisfying “want to” into a burdensome “have to” activity? Is the mechanism the same, when an acquaintance expects you to provide a form of support that you might willingly offer, but which you mind – maybe even resent – having to provide in response to the imposed expectation? What causes the same action to be, in one case a gift, in another an onerous duty?

Perception, a label, a naming of the action, an attachment to the idea of freedom of choice – any or all of these can and do change how we feel about what we are doing. Seeing others “similarly situated” changes an experience of vulnerability to one of “I’m not alone” and we feel better.

The challenge, as I see it, is to shift one’s perception away from “alone with this problem” without needing to find others who are similarly unhappy. I expect of myself that I will minimize occasions where I am manifesting the true – but very negative – “misery loves company” adage. I expect, instead, that I will remain sufficiently focused on the inner spiritual joy I know to be my true Self, that I will not feel alone with any problem. I expect to practice my daily contemplation, to stop and “check in” many times during the demanding and busy days ahead, so that I function in a space of shared pleasure, shared accomplishment, shared cooperation, banishing misery not just from my own space, but from the space and lives of those around me.

Joy loves company. Joy expands. The Soul is a joyful entity. I am Soul. Therefore I AM – joy.

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2 Responses to “Instead…”

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