Out Of Our Hands

I was on the Planning and Engineering Department team as an intern in 1985 and one of the things they were working on was this caging for one of the zoo animals that incorporated lots of structural triangles. They wanted to use intense security on the jaguar display and the reason was because of the jaguar’s combination of agility, speed and for lack of a better word, irritability. If those jags lashed out beyond the security of their confine, it was certainly dangerous, so the focus of the design was to keep the cats completely “in.” All discussions by the design team included this theme. In fact, I think a 3-foot fence sat outside the display fence to double insure safety. After all this hype, I remember standing there as we were about to cut the ribbon on the new exhibit. My eye was distracted by a little brown squirrel scurrying along the outside perimeter of this supposed impervious enclosure. Suddenly, he simply darted into the display. Deep inside the rock and tree structure, he was invisible for a moment and then hopped right past one of the jaguars who barely noticed. Here was all this time spent making sure nothing could get out and without a thought, this peanut-brain squirrel just went … in. I don’t know if he eventually became a snack or if he went on back home after a visit to his new neighbors, but either way the point was clear.

Absolute control over anything is, at best, an illusion.

Anything Can Happen

How your children will behave, how people will perceive your contribution at work, how loyal your mate will stay, how well-behaved your pets will be, how long your money will last, how long your elderly relatives will live; these are things that may have favorable odds, like it is unlikely your healthy 55-year old uncle will drop dead today but it is not impossible. You have no control over these things.

Yes, you can cut the odds by your behavior but be clear, anything can happen--especially when you live an active life or work in a dynamic company where a lot of things are happening and a lot of change is common (like practically every newly rolled-out or revised company today). You will find upon arrival that lots of pledges are taken and lots of references to teams and teamwork, but if the members of that team don’t exhibit HARD work, the other members force them to the back of the herd where they are very vulnerable and ripe for the hunters.

The young men and women I meet today are not offended by having their supervisor call any time day or night and ask them a business-related question. It’s like the company never sleeps and the advantage can only be gained by a relentless and constant work schedule. With that much free access to staff, there is no control for the employee at all. You serve at the will of the supervisor who has expectations that are through the roof. That’s because what is expected of him/her is equally high--if not greater.

What I found happens is that the members of the team begin a sort of “group think” where the underlying philosophy of the team bears out in everything they do. That “harmony” spawns smaller crews who tie individual values with the company’s. So basically idea people design things that production people “produce” and disseminate to marketing people who sell and push to shipping and mailing teams who get the widget out the door. The unit practically gains momentum as each bastion of talent goes above and beyond to be sure the obstacles are not blamed on “their” department. If a weak link is evidenced, it is swiftly dealt with and bolstered and/or eliminated. This “policy” becomes the collective company value system. It’s now on automatic pilot and no one has control of what has been created. This philosophy has saved some companies and ruined some others. It’s done the same for relationships too.

Countdown Or Counting Backwards

I was in a drug store last week and the lady at the check-out register seemed very disturbed.  “Hello,” I said. She forced a smile and grunted. “Bad day,” she said. “I’m sorry,” I continued.  “They’re all bad while I am working here,” she finished. I said, “You know I’m afraid to say things like that because I’ve had a lot of friends lose jobs these past few years. I’m grateful to still have work.” She softened, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m just counting the days until February 8, 2017. Then I can be happy again.” I paused, “You know the date you’ll be happy again?” She nodded and said, “That’s when he gets out.” I nodded, “Oh, I see. How long has he been in?”  A trace of doubt crossed her face, “It’s three years so far.” I nodded again without a word and I think we were both thinking the same thing. What about him has already changed in three years and what more will change in two more years? And how has she changed? And should she be waiting or looking for a better life? And the things he did that got him into jail, will they keep happening? Fact is she had control over NONE of these factors and likely the doubt and fear about it all was building. I think the look on my face cast doubt onto her promise of “happy-again.” Maybe in the back of her head was the notion that the February date in 2017 was a date she should dread and my mere skeptical facial gesture opened the door to all that doubt.  I think she always knew the one thing she could control was if she would even be there when he does get out. Maybe that’s the thing she should take control of and develop a plan that looked for long-term happiness instead of the few days and moments when he returns home.   Taking control of the situation would help her take control of her life; as best as she could. The easier route is to hope for happier days and times; hope that it will all “go back” to when it was good but as we’ve clearly now concluded, so much of that is out of our hands.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.