Sunday, June 17, 2018

Beautiful plants that I want to plant in my garden

These are some of the plants I want to plant in my garden--perennials all.......

1) Large yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata), called Fagerfredløs in Norwegian. These yellow flowers spread out once planted. Here is a photo:

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2) Royal Purple Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria), called parykkbusk in Norwegian. The color of this plant is something to behold--royal purple indeed. It's gorgeous and stands out in any garden.

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3) Lupine (Lupinus)--this plant comes in so many gorgeous colors. This is the tutti frutti lupine.

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4) Allium (Allium giganteum)--another lovely flower, a bit alien-looking, but worth having.

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Navigating workplace politics--some tips

I think so many of the articles on this blog are very good. This is one of them. The tone of most of the articles is realistic, yet optimistic at the same time, and the presentations of the different themes are balanced. The writing is neither artificial nor cloying. Check out some of the other articles--well worth your time.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Garden update June 2018

Both May and June have been unseasonably warm for this part of the world--temperatures in the 80s and sunny most days. They've been great days for the garden. This year I've planted two types of pumpkins, string beans, corn, radishes, tomatoes and snap peas. I've also planted a few artichoke plants and some potatoes, just to see how well they do. The artichokes are slow to take off, but the potatoes are doing well, so next year I will plant more potatoes.

I've also realized that it makes sense to plant mostly perennial flowers, because they come back each year and that by itself will save me time and money. And it will also spare my back, because sometimes it's pretty tough on my back to be bending and kneeling and getting up and down all the time.

I've taken some photos of the garden during the past two weeks, and am posting them here. Enjoy.....

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The goal of workplace harassment

When my book Blindsided--Recognizing and Dealing with Passive Aggressive Leadership in the Workplace was first published in 2008, I was contacted by a woman who worked in conflict resolution. She had read the first edition of my book and wrote to me to tell me that she liked it, but that she wished I had provided more tips and advice on how to deal with such behavior in the workplace.

At the time she contacted me, I found it hard to envision a day when I would be 'free' of the passive aggressive workplace environment in which I found myself (nearly a decade ago). I myself was stuck in a place that caused me to question my capabilities and my sanity. I dealt with leaders at that time who 'knew' my weaknesses and exploited them. They may not have had that as their initial goal, but over time, it moved in that direction because they knew they could 'get to me'. I was subject to their whims and harassment for about a year, during which time I learned (the hard way) how to deal with them. Essentially I learned to 'go around' them. It is a tactic that served me well in grammar and high school with the (very few) teachers I didn't like (or who may not have liked me). I could sit and look directly at them, in rapt attention (or so it seemed), but in reality I was miles away, planning my next move or how I was going to pursue what I wanted to pursue, no matter what. I forgot that tactic over the years, or suppressed it for one reason or another. But I tried this tactic on some of these leaders, and found that it worked. I did not have to overtly fight them; there would have been no point since they 'ruled' and complaining to management above me would not have led to a satisfactory resolution. Sometimes in this life you're on your own and you've got to figure it out for yourself. I did. Through writing and many discussions with other long-suffering colleagues, I learned about workplace behaviors to which I and many colleagues were subjected unwillingly.

When I published the second edition of Blindsided in 2009, I included a chapter called Fighting Back--Survive and Thrive by Being More Assertive, the title of which was suggested to me by the woman who worked in conflict resolution. Her suggestion about including more tips and advice was a good one, and when I re-read them now from this vantage point, I am surprised that I had the presence of mind to expand on some of them. However, I still disagree with her on one major point. She felt that all conflicts could eventually be resolved through listening and good communication. I do not agree. There are some conflicts that cannot be resolved. If all conflicts could be resolved, we would live in a perfect world, and we do not. I felt that way in 2009, and I still feel that way. This doesn't mean that we cannot try to resolve conflicts, just that we should not be overly-disappointed if resolutions are not forthcoming. This applies to conflicts in both our personal lives and our work lives. Sometimes the other party does not want to extend the olive branch, other times it may be us who do not want to do that. Sometimes we just have to walk away from conflicts, or wait until we've become savvy enough to deal with them. I have chosen a new tactic for myself the past year or so. It comes down to this--I do my job and I do it well. I dig deep and find the motivation I need to get the job done. I don't take things personally anymore, and if the goals shift and new priorities overtake the old, I've gotten better about letting go of the old goals and priorities faster. I've learned to let go without suffering the grief that used to accompany having to give up a beloved project to focus on something else. But as luck and fate would have it, I now work for good leaders who respect their employees. A win-win situation, because I work for people who support rather than harass others. That makes it easier to find motivation again.

What I didn't discuss in my book was the goal of the harassers, at least not in detail. After watching the video about trolling, I realized that their behavior had a distinct purpose, and that was to disrupt my focus on my research work. By blindsiding me, they riled me up, slowed me down, distracted me, and pushed me off course. They, and my reaction (taking their behavior personally) cost me at least two years of productive research work. They took away the possibility for me to be the best self I could be at that time. And that was the point. They were/are narcissists, only interested in themselves and their research work. Perhaps they considered me a competitor, or perhaps they were envious of my good relationships with my students. By dismantling the self-confidence of others, they could reduce the number of competitors on the playing field, because competition for research funding is tight. There's something to be said for keeping a cool head when those about you are not doing so. It gives you the power to make informed and common-sense decisions. The fear and anxiety of a decade ago are long gone. A new confidence has taken their place, and it is firmly rooted in a strong belief in self. I am grateful for the lesson learned, and for the fact that I did indeed learn it.

Trolling as practiced by our president--who knew?

This video was suggested to me by one of my readers, and I'm grateful for the tip. It provided valuable insights about trolling, a behavior that I knew very little about. After watching this video, you'll see Trump in a new light. But it will also make you wonder exactly how we are to combat these types of techniques, because as long as he continues to rile us with his bullying and bizarre behavior on Twitter and the internet, he wins. But if we don't react to his bullying and bizarre behavior, what does that say about us as concerned and empathetic human beings? It's actually difficult to know what to do, and Trump knows that. We have to learn how to deal with him.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Losing and regaining workplace motivation

There are many reasons why employees lose their motivation for doing their jobs well. Burnout as a result of a poor work-life balance may be one reason, lack of feedback or recognition from management may be another. Unclear and constantly-shifting goals and strategies will also destroy employee motivation gradually over time, which is understandable. It’s hard to aim at a constantly-moving target. It’s not possible to continually start over, reorganize and restructure, working toward yet a new goal that management has suddenly decided to prioritize, and retain motivation. Change is fine and necessary in workplaces, just not continual change. Harassment and bullying in the workplace also contribute to loss of employee motivation, especially if they are allowed to continue once reported. All of these are important reasons for why many employees simply give up and stop trying or stop caring. Many of these employees should probably quit and find other jobs, but if you’ve been treated poorly over the course of many years, your self-confidence may not be at an optimal level, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll do well in an interview for a new job. Additionally, many employees need their jobs for economic reasons and cannot just quit.

When employees are treated poorly by management or ignored by management, employees will lose their motivation. They will slow down, be less effective, produce less, and complain more. If they don’t complain, they will find other ways to undermine what they perceive to be a system that is completely indifferent to them or that rarely listens to them. They will say that ‘they could care less’, but in truth, they do care, and wise leaders will recognize this and do something about it.

Leaders make all the difference, and they should remember that. In all my years in the workforce, I have yet to meet employees who are motivated solely by money. Most employees are inspired by leaders who know what they want and know how to impart that message to their employees. Most employees want to know that their work counts and that it is important to the company. They want to hear that they’ve done a good job when they’ve done a good job; they want to be seen and they want their hard work to be acknowledged. Many leaders seem unable to do this. They have difficulty praising employees for a job well-done. They have difficulty offering constructive criticism, whereas most employees understand the need for constructive criticism when necessary. It’s how you learn, grow, and progress professionally.

It’s possible to regain motivation for one’s work, even after many years of minimal motivation. A change of leadership may do the trick. A wise leader takes over for one who was clueless, ineffective, or unprofessional in tone and behavior. A wise leader meets with his or her employees, takes the time to talk to them about their work and how they feel about their jobs, discovers the strengths in his or her employees, and builds on those strengths. When employees feel that they’ve been listened to and then given new tasks that match their strengths and abilities, they regain their motivation. It may be a slow process, but what’s important is that those employees are once again effective and productive employees.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Sparrows and hens

The sparrows in the community garden enjoy the birdbath; I've watched them having a ball splashing around and bathing before they quickly fly away. Sometimes it's quite funny to watch them and the bees enjoying the bath together. They seem to be peacefully co-existing.

And who would have thought that you would hear hens clucking and cackling in the city of Oslo? The owners of the house across the street installed a hen house in their garden several days ago. The hens are getting used to being there, and it's clear that they like their owner, because whenever he comes into the hen house, they start 'talking' to him. Of course, he has food for them. I enjoy hearing them at different times of the day. There is no rooster (yet), as far as we can determine. If a rooster arrives, we can kiss our alarm clocks goodbye, as they enjoy waking up the neighborhood at the crack of dawn.

I'm posting two videos, one of a sparrow and the birdbath, the other of the hens clucking....Enjoy!

Bees and water

There are two honeybee hives in our community garden. There seem to be many more honeybees this year compared to last year, when the hives were first established. The worker bees are non-aggressive and friendly. And who knew that bees like water? I certainly didn't. After doing some online reading, I now understand that not only do they like water, they need to drink water to survive. They need water just like humans need water. I've watched the bees closely, especially during these May days that are sunny, hot, and dry. The bees line up at the edge of the birdbath, drink water, and then fly away. But every now and then I find a honeybee that has drowned, and I'm not quite sure how or why that happened. I've been filling the birdbath with less water so the bees have more of the ceramic wall edge to hold onto when they drink water. I've also placed a stone with a lot of uneven edges in the center of the birdbath. That seems to have helped. But according to what I read online, some of the dead bees may have died a natural death (they only live five to six weeks during the active season) in the birdbath. But I also wondered if some of them actually drowned. So I went online for more information, and found out that bees cannot swim, and are actually experts at drowning.

I hate to see any living creature die, and if I get the chance to save bees from drowning, I'll do what I can. Today, I found a bee that had flown into my small watering can that was filled with water. When I checked the can, I saw the bee still struggling, so I dumped the water out onto the earth. The bee lay still in the grass, so I found a flat green leaf and maneuvered the bee onto the leaf. I then placed it onto the stone base of my sun umbrella. The bee was moving, but quite slowly. It seemed to need time to recover; from the time I rescued it to the time it flew away, I estimated that the entire recovery period was about twenty minutes. I was so happy when I watched it fly away. I knew it would, since its wings were not damaged. During the recovery time, the bee seemed to be trying to dry itself off. I took a video of it with my cell phone, about five minutes before it flew away; I'm posting it here.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

An excellent article about identifying the next generation of leaders for your company

Leadership is a topic that I've written a lot about during the past decade, in this blog but also in several books that I've published. I've written a lot about the poor leadership I've seen and experienced personally, but also about the good (and even great) leaders for whom I've had the privilege of working. What characterizes the latter is their generosity, expansiveness, visionary abilities, and their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence involves knowing your employees' strengths and weaknesses and acting on that knowledge when trying to find the right person for the job. In order to know this as a leader, you have to be able to talk to your employees.

It's a pleasure to come across an article that makes a lot of excellent points about how to identify leadership potential. More specifically, this article focuses on identifying the next generation of leaders in your company:

It also makes the point that extroverts don't necessarily make the best leaders. I couldn't agree more. So many 'introverts' have been ignored or passed over when it came time for promotions to leadership positions. During the past decade, the focus on extroversion has been intense. I have no idea why. I've participated in countless numbers of meetings, many of them dominated by extroverts. There was little exchange of ideas; the outcome was often that the introverts declined to participate in future meetings or found ways to get out of them if they could. Not a win-win situation for a company.

Modern workplaces during the past fifteen years or so have often been dominated by extroverts, by Newspeak, by trendy business philosophies, and by a dilution of responsibility that serves no one. Let's hope that the next generation of leaders gets back to business and to an understanding that "your company is only as good as the employees who work for you, and your employees are only as good as the leaders who lead them".

How to achieve better employee engagement

An article worth reading.......

Employee engagement is a tricky subject. I agree with the points brought up in the article, but emphasize that good managers and leaders are what lead to engaged employees. Employee satisfaction starts at the top and works its way down. Leaders and managers are employees too, and if they are engaged, motivated and happy, if they believe in what they do and in the goals of the company, those who work for them will be motivated as well. In some few cases, I've experienced the opposite--that engaged and motivated employees re-inspired their bosses who had lost their motivation. If that happens at times, that's good too. But leaders must understand their role in keeping employees motivated. They have a responsibility to do so. That is what leadership is about.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reflections on Elena Ferrante's Troubling Love

I never thought that I would come upon a novel that would describe so accurately some of the feelings that I had as a child and teenager about my father’s quarrelsome siblings (three sisters and one brother). Confusion is certainly one word that described my feelings about them as a young child. Fear and anxiety were other feelings. There was a lot of drama in the lives of my aunts and uncle, and that drama extended to and included us when we were together with them. Being around them was nerve-wracking, because you never knew what dramatic spectacle would unfold when you were together with them. My father was the peacemaker in his Italian family; it was a thankless role, and one I am not sure he really wanted, but one that he felt he should take on given all the problems between the siblings. He was a good and kind man, stable and dependable, not prone to unpredictable outbursts of temper or emotion. His siblings were the opposite. Their behavior led to arguments in funeral parlors, crying jags in others’ homes, angry phone calls and snippy letters, returned gifts, perceived slights, arrogant behavior, inferiority complexes, and a whole host of other strange occurrences. Children were not excluded from their punishing behavior. If they were upset with my parents, they punished us as well, e.g. by not remembering our birthdays. Only one aunt tried not to be like the others, but the others ran roughshod over her because she was a passive soul for most of her life. I can remember Sunday family dinners that ended in conflict because my mother felt that it was time for my aunts and uncle to go home since it was a school day for us the next day, whereas they felt that it was their right to sit in our living room until they decided it was time to go home. It made for uncomfortable occasions, which caused problems between my mother and father; my mother felt that my father took their side, while they felt that he cow-towed to his wife too much. Then there were the letters detailing the perceived slights and insults they felt when they visited us (again my mother’s fault although my father came in for his share of criticism as well). Or the angry phone calls where my uncle would berate my mother to my father, who again was put in the position of defending his wife against his birth family, a position he hated. He wanted so much for both sides to be friends, something I knew would never happen. Even as a child, I knew this with absolute certainty. I’m sure my mother knew it too. The differences between them were too great. I remember being fascinated by adult behavior as practiced by my father’s siblings; it was unpredictable, unstable, dramatic, emotional, anxiety-inducing, fear-inducing, and ultimately childish. I may have been a bit scared (and scarred) by it as well. My father’s siblings were not really adults, but rather children whose emotional needs had been stifled (due to circumstances beyond their control that had to do with my grandfather’s financial losses during the Depression) and which led to their becoming immature adults. That’s the way I look at them now, and that has helped me to forgive their behavior. But when I was a child, I felt torn. I was intensely loyal to my father and mother, but I wanted to have good relationships with my aunts and uncle. It was not to be. I remember feeling suffocated at times by the idea of extended family. It seemed to me that family, as my father’s siblings defined it, meant that everyone had the right to have an opinion about what everyone else in the family did. They did not understand boundaries, nor did they understand that marriage meant that you put your spouse first, ahead of them. It was expected that you would listen to them and abide by their comments and advice; if you didn’t, you were subject to their tongue-lashings and scorn, as well as their anger about being ignored or slighted. I never really knew how to deal with my aunts and uncle when they lived, and when they died, it was hard for me to feel any emotion at all. My father was sadly the first of his siblings to pass; I often think that the stress of dealing with his siblings played a large role in making him ill. I felt mostly relief when each of my father’s siblings passed. I was free, we were free, and my mother was free. Free from behavior that threatened to suffocate and to annihilate one’s idea of oneself. Because the concept of wanting a life for oneself was forbidden in my father’s family. It was not allowed that one could want that, or want to prioritize one’s spouse and children. One had to exist for one’s birth family, and make choices that always included them, no matter what. One had to put birth family first ahead of spouse and children. Looking back, I see how strange it really was. But it was my only point of reference, my only definition of adult behavior that I had, and I see now in retrospect that it was warped.

Elena Ferrante’s book Troubling Love describes an Italian family quite different than that of my father’s family. Delia, the main character, has complicated feelings about her relationship with her mother, Amalia, who separated from her physically-abusive husband when Delia was a young woman. When Amalia is found dead (drowned in the sea) and Delia goes to her funeral, it unleashes a torrent of thoughts and feelings that we are privy to as readers. The story involves other characters and sub-plots that help us to understand (without accepting or forgiving) Amalia’s husband’s jealousy and rage. But Ferrante is unflinching in her description of abusive men, for whom she has no use. She depicts them in all their garishness, naked rage, and lust. It is not a pretty picture. Ferrante is so good at describing exactly what it is that Delia feels, but at the same time, we end up wandering with Delia through her tangled nightmares as she relives the traumas and memories of her childhood and youth. There were events that happened in her childhood that should not have happened, and behavior that she and her sisters should have been shielded from. But they were not. It is the feelings Ferrante evokes via her writing that struck a nerve in me. She can describe those feelings of suffocation, of cloyingness, of bewilderment, of duty, of need, in a way that I intuitively recognize and remember.

As I grew older, I made myself a promise that my life would be so different from the lives of my aunts and uncle, and it is, but only after much reflection and risk-taking. When family life is not about love and loving others, but rather about hatred, conflict and jealousy of others, it is no small task to try to undo that or to surpass it. Troubling Love is not a book for everyone’s tastes; many people will find it disturbing and uncomfortable. It is both those things. But if you have experienced the claustrophobia of one type of family life, you will be drawn into her story, and it is well-worth the read. I don’t know if I could have appreciated Ferrante’s book had I read it in my twenties; it is the only book written by her that I have read so far, but I do think that I could manage to read more of her writing. A lot of years have passed and I have the distance necessary for me to read such stories. One can ask, why do you want to? My answer is that it is a way of facing those early fears and bewilderment and finding out that one has overcome and perhaps understood them. Literature serves many purposes; for me, it is not solely about entertainment, but rather about finding answers on this life journey. It has always been about that for me.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The royal wedding

I was fairly sure that I wasn’t going to watch the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan, but I ended up glued to the tube, just as I was for the marriage of William and Kate, the marriage of Charles and Diana, the funeral of Princess Diana, the marriage of Haakon and Mette Marit here in Norway, and the marriages of both Swedish princesses. I don’t consider myself a royalist, but I am interested in their lives, mostly from a historical perspective. It is fascinating to learn how things are done in royal circles. Certainly watching the Netflix series ‘The Crown’ has been very enjoyable and enlightening. It is so well-done that it feels as though the past is actually happening right now. I’ve learned a lot about British history and politics from watching this series. It’s interesting to see how the royals do weddings, funerals, baptisms and other events that draw many spectators and well-wishers. Their traditions, rules and customs are fascinating, if a bit infuriating at times, and this became only too clear when watching The Crown. Rules about whom one could and could not marry, associate with, or about what kind of work one could and could not do, shaped and/or destroyed the lives of the born royals and those who married into the royal family. I found it difficult not to judge them too harshly, and yet, they were the products of their times, and that is what I eventually focused on in trying to understand the past. One cannot use the mores of modern times to judge the past. Considering all the drama and chaos that have been a part of the British royal family for the past half a century, it’s no surprise that they’ve loosened up a bit. Marrying a non-virgin or a divorcee is no longer taboo, thank God. What is important is love, and that was what the sermon by the U.S. Bishop Michael Curry focused on at Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Not just romantic love, but all forms of love. When we non-royals marry, we take for granted that we can marry those we love; that has not been the case for many royals. Throughout royal history, royals did not and could not always marry for love, but married rather out of duty—to parents, to tradition, to the church. It must have been a tough life for many of them; some of them opted to pursue extramarital affairs in order to make their daily lives bearable. In that sense, it makes it easier to understand that Charles, who was pressured to marry Diana, chose to continue his relationship with the woman he really did love—Camilla (deemed unsuitable as wife material). His behavior toward Diana was reprehensible, but so was the behavior of those who forced him into a marriage he did not want. As fate would have it, he ended up with Camilla, but only after Diana was killed in a car crash. Princess Diana was the first person to really bring a breath of fresh air into the royal family; she paved the way for the changes that have come about in the past twenty or so years. Meghan Markle is another breath of fresh air; as Harry pointed out—she and his mother Diana (had she still been alive) would have been as ‘thick as thieves’. In other words, good friends. It’s not hard to imagine that at all.

I wish Harry and Meghan well; they seem to really love each other. It is always uplifting to watch young couples starting their married lives together. An open and unwritten book lies before them, one that they will write as life moves them along. I hope too that they will make a real difference in the lives of those around them, and that they will work tirelessly to promote the charities and causes that they have supported and continue to support.

A good article: Ten jobs with the best work-life balance

Back in 2011, I wrote a post about the work-life balance in Norway  ( I made the point that the work-life balance in Norway, and in Scandinavia generally, is better than in the States, for so many reasons, and that is documented in numerous research articles that have studied the topic in depth. I grew up thinking that hard work got you to your goal, and I still think it does. But hard work is not the same as working overtime or working yourself to death. I see that I did not make that point completely clear in my original post. Hard work is not the same as being available to your employer at all hours, on weekends, and on holidays. My point is that it is possible to give what you need to give to your employer and still have a life outside of work. It is possible to work in a focused way for the seven to eight hours you work each day, and then to go home and close the door behind work. It should not make you feel important when your employer contacts you routinely late in the evening with questions and requests for meetings and such things. There may be periods in life when you need to work overtime or on weekends, but this should not be the norm, nor should employers expect this of their employees. Why Americans continue to believe that giving their all to employers is an admirable thing is confounding. Because when the time comes for companies to get rid of employees due to budget cuts, they don't discriminate nor do they waste time, and will do what they need to do regardless of how loyal employees have been or how much time employees have given to their employers. We've seen it time and again.

In that context, I found the following article quite interesting, and wanted to share it with you. It is a list of the ten jobs (US employers) with the best work-life balance. For young people looking to have a balance between work and life outside of work, I urge you to check it out.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Garden update May 2018

We are enjoying an unseasonably warm spring, with temperatures the past two weeks hovering around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. And it's been sunny as well. Perfect conditions for the garden. It just amazes me how fast a garden comes to life when all the conditions are right, especially after a long hard winter with a lot of snow. It's hard to believe that there was still snow on the ground on April 11th; most of the snow had melted in the garden by that point, but there were patches here and there.

The greenhouse has been invaluable in helping me get started this year. I started most of my seeds in mid-April, and all of them grew and did well in the greenhouse. I learned a lot about what the seedlings needed in terms of light and air. If I was there during the afternoon, I opened the window to let them have some air, but I kept the window closed at night when temperatures hovered around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. But as the sun has grown stronger and the days longer and warmer, I have kept the window open. All of the seedlings have done well, and I planted most of them this week. I will be growing tomatoes and gherkins in the greenhouse the entire summer, but I have also planted gherkins outdoors so that I can get an idea of what works for this part of the world and this part of the country.

I planted two different types of string beans this year, as well as two different types of pumpkins. One of my work colleagues is from Italy, and she is trying to get a hold of some seeds from pumpkins that are native to Italy. According to her, they are sweet pumpkins; I hope she will manage to get some seeds for me. Otherwise, I have planted different kinds of flowers this year--grape hyacinths, a peony plant, sweet rocket, sunflowers, hollyhocks, and plants that resemble hollyhocks. Last fall, I also planted two different types of tulips, and they have now bloomed and look lovely.

Here are some photos of the garden as of yesterday. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Two good songs--Hotline Bling and Why Can't We Live Together

I like a lot of Drake's music; Hotline Bling, from 2015 is another favorite. Ok, maybe the video isn't quite my style, but the song is. When I first heard the music, it reminded me of an old song from the 1970s called 'Why Can't We Live Together' by Timmy Thomas. When I explored this further, I found out that Drake sampled Timmy Thomas' song; I also found out that composers Drake and Nineteen85 acknowledged Thomas (who owns the music he wrote) in the credits on Hotline Bling.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Systemic organizational dishonesty

Modern workplaces are often characterized by their runaway bureaucracy and obsessive need for control and micromanagement of employees by the bureaucrats who have been given an immense amount of power. I don’t think it’s ever been as bad as it is now. We work for the bureaucrats, not the other way around. They were once there to serve us in capacities ranging from secretary to administrative assistant to middle-manager to accountant. They were once there to support their organization's important professional activities. Now it is the regular employees who serve the bureaucrats and who use massive amounts of time and effort trying to coddle them and their whims. Another reorganization for the umpteenth time during the past five years? No problem, we’re on it. We’re adjusting, changing, and evolving—all the time, 24/7. We’re flexible and adaptable. Our budgets are non-existent but hey, we’re smiling. We try our best to accommodate the administrative gurus over us in the system—the ones you never get to know until they decide to get to know you. And usually when they notice you, it won’t be a pleasant experience.

The more nameless and faceless bureaucrats there are, the more systemic dishonesty permeates a workplace. It's that nameless and faceless aspect that allows for it and even encourages it. When you know that you can never be taken for your bad behavior, procedures and routines, you help to construct and defend systemic dishonesty. It goes something like this--take a research institute as a typical example. A scientist receives funding from an external foundation for a project that he has designed, written and applied for. He receives said funding from this foundation. He is informed by email and letter that he has received this funding, and he contacts the accounting department to inform them that it needs to set up an account for him so that the money can be transferred from the foundation to this account so that he can use it to buy consumables for his research project. The money from the foundation is transferred into this newly-created account in mid-November. He looks forward to being able to use it once the new fiscal year starts. January arrives, and he starts to buy needed items for his research project. The orders are processed and he receives the items. April arrives and he suddenly receives a rude and aggressive email from the accounting department saying that his account is in the red and that he needs to cover the deficit with other funds (of which there are none because this is one of those scientists that modern workplaces consider to be non-existent and unimportant because they don’t drag in tons of funding). In other words, he owes his institute money. He checks this new account to make sure that he hasn’t overspent, and he hasn’t. He calls the accounting department, and finds out the following. The accounting department did set up an account for this money; but it was an account that couldn't be transferred into 2018, so as of January 1st, the money just 'disappeared'. The account was in other words zeroed out, and there was no way to find out what happened to the money (no possibility to track it). His institute used it for something else and will not inform the scientist what became of the money. Neither the foundation that granted the money nor the scientist whose money was taken from him understands this accounting practice. It is explained to the scientist in glowing terms—that this is something the accounting department must do to balance the budget. Of course the institute hasn’t stolen the money—it just got placed in another account, one that cannot be accessed by the scientist in question. The scientist continues to insist that this is an unethical practice—that this is stealing money from scientists. But the accounting department does not listen, nor does it care. These types of practices are built into an organization, and they facilitate the systemic dishonesty that I am talking about.

Every time a department or departments within an organization explain away bad behavior, unethical routines and processes, mobbing, harassment, and abuse of employees, they further systemic dishonesty. It grows like a vine, insinuating itself into all aspects of an organization. It is defended by the nameless and faceless bureaucrats who are unable to stand up to an unethical system, to call a spade a spade, and to fight to abolish this system. Such a system will destroy those who try to destroy it. That is almost a given.

But this scientist did not back down. He continued to call what the accounting department did, stealing. He told other scientists in his organization about what had happened. They called it stealing too. He threatened to report the entire incident to the foundation that had granted him the money. And then the accounting department woke up. They became alarmed. A rebel in their system. A resister. A potential destroyer of their carefully-built systemic dishonesty. A rabble-rouser who was going to force them to take responsibility, to be accountable for their behavior. That couldn’t be allowed. So they told this scientist that he couldn’t and shouldn’t contact this foundation, that it would have an unfortunate signal effect. They’re true diplomats when they need to be. The scientist replied that unless they gave him back his money, that he would make the report. And within a few hours, the accounting department caved. And suddenly they were pleasant and accommodating to this scientist. Willing to help him in whatever way they could when he needed to order items for his research. The scientist won this round, and systemic dishonesty lost one round. But the latter continues in the form of banal corruption, unethical practices, cushy seminars for administrative leaders, useless leadership courses, and a host of other useless and non-science related activities that don’t benefit ordinary employees in the least.

Systemically dishonest organizations are full of sycophants, liars, cheats, and unethical individuals. Their boardrooms contain cowards, blowhards, aggressors, harassers, and morally-relative individuals. These systemically-dishonest people envy others who are intellectually inspired by their work (because they themselves are not). They envy scientists who believe in putting their research first and themselves second, who believe in something good in this world. Systemically-dishonest people must destroy that which they cannot embrace or understand. They are the moral nihilists of this world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Those immortal egotists

There are people in society generally who think they’re going to live forever. They don’t acknowledge that they’ve gotten older, or if they do, it’s always got to be at the expense of someone in their vicinity. As in, ‘yes, I know I’m 75 years old, but you’re getting old/older too’. It’s as though they can never accept that they are old and that the world is no longer their oyster. They also cannot accept that the younger generation is replacing them at work, nor do they want to facilitate this process in the slightest. They will be lying on their deathbeds protesting that they still have so much to do, that their work is so important, and that no one can take their place. Never have I heard one of them say that they are satisfied with their long careers and that it’s time to hand the torch to the younger generation. They grudgingly give up their cushy leadership positions, they resent that they cannot get funding past a certain age, and when they are hospitalized for a serious illness (true story for one person I knew, now deceased), they are already making travel plans to hold their next lecture in one or another foreign country. They refuse to acknowledge old age or infirmity. Mortality does not exist.

I am no age discriminator. I am happy for the past-retirement age people I know who are still happily working in my workplace. Most of them have made their peace with their age and their retirement, and work part-time helping out on different research projects where they can contribute with their expertise. Win-win for all involved. The people I’m talking about are the few retirees who think they still rule the roost and that everything revolves around them, their wishes, and their projects and ideas. The egotists, the great immortal scientists, who cannot accept defeat or the fact that the younger scientists are taking their places. If you are one of these people, you will get zero sympathy from me. Why? Because everything is about you, your career (mostly on ice), your 'promising' future, your next research project that’s going to make you a star. You are pissed that the rest of the world doesn’t see how great you are or how much you have to offer. It doesn’t matter that you don’t care about the rules and regulations that have grown up around the practice of science; no, you want to do science, and you want your students to do science, the ‘way you always did it. It worked for me. I don’t care about the rules and regulations, and neither should my students, because I said so.’

I have no problem with a lifelong intellectual interest in science; I see that I will also have it when I am old. But I have a big problem when your unlimited ego interferes with the lives and careers of students who depend on you to be a mature person, to let go of your ego and to put their lives and careers first. But no, the great almighty immortal egotistical scientists cannot do this. They cannot let go, because that would be tantamount to admitting they were old and mortal. They cannot see reason, they cannot be mature, they must throw tantrums when their wishes are hindered, and they must get their way. All in the name of what? What is it they are going to achieve now in their mid-70s? I don’t doubt that their contributions are still worthwhile. I do doubt that their contributions are going to lead to abundant funding for their immortal research projects. I think that the really good scientists in the world are those who can pass the torch to their students and to the younger generation, who are generous with help and praise, and who do not set up roadblocks every step of the way for the students they mentor. These are the non-egotists, and these are the scientists who will be immortalized by history.