Tuesday, October 11, 2011

bad news

How many professions are there that seem to face a constant barrage of bad news with something approaching equanimity ... or anyway a willingness to remain in that profession? Cops come to mind -- out of bed every day, hitting the street, and constantly encouraged to think the worst of people. It's no wonder to me that later in life so many decide to 'eat a bullet.' Or emergency-room workers, who have an advantage over cops because they do what they can to nourish and protect. Or those in the ministering professions, constantly bombarded with the foibles and frailties and whining of their fellow men and whose profession requires them to buck up the weary and forlorn. 'Compassion' may be their calling, but how exhausting it must get, listening and ministering to nothing but bad news, difficulty and whining.

A friend of mine spoke with cranky determination the other day as we chatted on the phone: "I hate whining," he said. But his back hurt and it was one of a series of old-age plaints I could sympathize with and was willing to hear about because ... because I might do the same and since the two of us forgave the bad news in each other because there was good news as well -- dirty jokes and laughter and discussions of subjects we both took seriously. He didn't prey on me and I tried not to prey on him with bad news. We might share bad news, but we didn't make it a profession.

There are people who seem to think it's acceptable to prey on others with their bad news. Like the blackmail of the stereotyped "Jewish mother," they seek out and suck dry the kindness others may be willing to exhibit. They demand it like some tantrum-prone child. Me, me, me, me, me .....

And it makes me think of the old, but seldom enunciated, Christian prayer: "Dear Lord, please give this person a swift kick in the ass." And I suppose the prayer is directed as much as anything to a mind -- my own -- which could just as easily find a laundry list of bad news. But since everyone has a similar laundry list, the question does arise, "What makes you think I want to add to mine?"

Once, when I was doing house painting for a woman I liked, I heard my employer on the phone with her mother. "Mom," she said, "I don't feel too well today. I'm not in the mood for a bunch of bad news." What a nice, clear statement ... not that her mother let up, judging by the length of the ensuing conversation.

Sometimes I think it's no wonder people talk about the weather or sports, two sexless subjects that contain little human excitement: It's an extreme version of 'not whining.' It's a way of saying there is control and discipline and no-worries. And of course it's boring because people are more interesting than that. But the other end of the spectrum is equally boring and equally annoying ... the presumption that what concerns me must, somehow, concern everyone else.

I don't know the balance point between the extremes, but one thing's for sure: I'm glad I am not a minister or some sort of similar 'helper.' That gives me the option of suggesting the person take their bad news elsewhere.


  1. "I'm glad I am not a minister or some sort of similar 'helper.' That gives me the option of suggesting the person take their bad news elsewhere."

    I can relate to that, but just as I find habitual whining troubling, I also find troubling a habitual unwillingness to listen… If we don’t feel like listening, I guess it’s better we don’t, but the problem I see with asking someone to take their bad news elsewhere is that I’m not so sure there is an “elsewhere”. It feels like being at the bow of a ship asking someone to take their problems to the stern; the bad news are still in the ship, right where we are, just out of sight, free to grow unwatched and take over the ship.

    At the supermarket where I’ve been working for the past few months, the majority of people are deeply unsatisfied, some having already become habitual whiners. As much as try to keep my "energy shield" up, sometimes I can’t stop myself from agreeing and, before I notice, I let out a bit of whining myself. Sometimes, tired of listening to the same complaints over again, I stop listening, even as I stand there earing. I guess that’s when I could be more truthful and say “I’m sorry but my whining bag is full”… Still the problem would remain unaddressed, growing out of sight, which begs the question…

    What is the problem?

    Business strategies, like Nature itself I guess, seek maximum efficiency, achieving maximum returns with the minimum (not always low) resources (how many eggs must a single fish lay for the species to survive?). The problem is that what is often achieved feels like an unsustainable (and therefore false) efficiency; like driving a car’s engine in maximum RPM. Car engines aren’t designed to ride in the red for long and the longer you do it the sooner they'll give in. This means replacing them more often, which, in the long run, means more resources than what might be considered “efficient”.

    Same thing with people and jobs I guess…

    I was told that when the supermarket opened a couple of years ago, there were twice more people refilling shelves than today. When a lower sales period came, managers decided to cut staff, to a point where staff is no longer able to ever completely refill any corridor’s shelves, never mind organising them and keeping them tidy. This leaves people with a constant sense of an unfinished task. Making things worse, every end of the month and independently of seasonal variations, when everyone is paid, there is a rush to the supermarket and staff has to work at double speed. Making things even worse, when sales came back up, managers didn’t return to the initial staff levels (less staff, higher profits). This means people have to work over their capacity all month long, constantly unable to finish their task, and when pay day comes… it’s a nightmare… Adding ridicule to the misery, managers' demands haven’t changed and when results begin to falter, they charge over staff with accusations of laziness, which of course is easier than recognising their own laziness and management faults.

    Unsurprisingly, people are giving in. They are tired, unsatisfied, whining and contaminating the environment with negative thoughts and words, going sick, failing to come to work, doing all in their reach to be made redundant (this way they get paid off), the quality of service has fallen, there is high rotation of staff, increasing difficulty in recruiting new staff (due to the company’s growing bad reputation), etc, etc, etc.

    I guess this is only a small reflection of a much larger malaise… So, what is the way out? I don’t know but I guess listening and a bit more caring of people and less of profits might be a good starting point.

  2. I'm self centered and I'm tired of the way you make me feel. I cut this string forever. Thankyou for listening and all the kindnesses granted in the past.

  3. We used to call them psychic vampires. In the chat room I moderate, I'll ask them what their plan is for coping with whatever they're whining about. When they express their helplessness, asking what can they possibly do, I'll respond that they will have to figure that out for themselves, relative to their abilities and circumstances. If that seed can't take root, they'll leave in a huff of righteous indignation. They may come back and try again, but it sets an example for the rest of the room not to enable them... hopefully. lol