Thinking

Lately, I’ve had more thoughts and questions than answers. That’s sometimes troubling to me; I’m a literal, linear, logical type of person, so open-ended, unresolved ruminations are uncomfortable.

On the other hand, thinking without trying to resolve, simply acknowledging a topic and exploring it without expectation of action, is rather a luxury. In my role as a legal executive for a public company, I’m constantly expected to problem-solve for the business stakeholders (even though they’re the decision makers and action takers, it’s somehow my job to identify the solutions – go figure). That can be a lot of pressure and is often very frustrating. So, getting the chance to simply think about things is sort of refreshing.

But it’s not without its pitfalls. Given my prolonged struggle with sleep and heightened stress, thinking can easily become stressful, negativie over-thinking or catastrophizing, rather than neutral or constructive contemplation. I’m mindful of that risk and do make an effort to avoid extremes. Yet the nature of some topics naturally leads to some dark connections and emotions. Too, the context in which a topic arises can cast it in an unfavorable light from the beginning, such as a caller who begins with “now, don’t shoot the messenger”.

Predictably, I’ve been seeing a trend in my thoughts and connections made during all this thinking. My pattern is roughly: wake up (if I’ve slept), assess my mental and physical state, give myself a pep-talk to make this a good and positive day, hit the office with as positive attitude as possible, and then come face to face with reality. Now up until the rapid deceleration into the hard wall of reality, my thoughts on practically every topic and reaction to nearly every stimulus is positive and constructive, because I’ve been visualizing a positive day and positive outcome to everything. But as soon as the first whining complaint about having to wait on “Legal” is uttered, or the first fire drill issue is lobbed over the fence into my lap, my thoughts are suddenly unable to conceive of anything but the negative side of everything.

I’m not a negative person, really. I hate the thought that I’ve turned into one. Used to be that I could readily see both sides of any problem and was always willing to remain upbeat and give the benefit of the doubt. But recently, I can’t truthfully say that still describes me.

Perhaps most troubling about this vague pattern I’ve detected is the tendency to make connections between seemingly disconnected things. The way my brain works, when I’ve connected two concepts with some reasonably logical basis for the connection, they’re nearly inextricable, always surfacing together or calling in the other whenever one arises alone.

That’s not a problem when the connections are reasonable, comfortable, understandable and don’t make me question the motives or integrity of the triggering stimulus (especially when that’s a person). It can be quite vexing when the connection is not obvious, or is discordant with accepted wisdom, or throws other values or beliefs into question.

Perhaps an example will help illustrate why this troubles me. This is kind of long, but it’ll land in a minute, I promise:

At the end of every quarter, tensions run high for my team because the sales organization puts a lot of pressure on us to get contracts drafted, negotiated, revised and executed before the end of the quarter so that the sale and revenue count for the present financial reporting period. This pressure is exacerbated by their tendency to leave much of the quarter’s worth of deals until the last week of the quarter, making a huge mountain of work to be completed by very few people in a very short time.

This set of conditions often leads to a high volume of complaints that my team are taking too long and a general attitude that we’re the only reason important deals aren’t getting done or are slipping into the next quarter. No one seems to acknowledge that their failure to plan ahead, their failure to engage with my team earlier, their failure to timely provide complete and accurate information necessary to draft the contracts, and their failure to follow-through with their own tasks are all bigger and more significant contributors to any deal failure than is my team taking the time needed to draft complex documents once we have the needed info and approval. Because we’re at the end of a long process, we attract the ire and the blame.

This is a known and familiar state of affairs, we’re often told, so we should plan for it and not be so sensitive when frustrated sales guys occasionally let off steam at our expense.

This enabling, blame-shifting patter is also familiar. It’s very like what I and many similarly situated folks have encountered when seeking explanations and solutions to problems of inequality. We’re often answered with references to tradition, economic expediency, scarcity of resources, cultural differences, evolutionary immaturity, and plain old inertia as reasons why one group must suffer under unequal treatment, pay, living conditions, and legal rights. We’re told that we have to be patient and let time transform things until we have the relief we seek.

In other words, accommodate your persecutors, swallow your grief and grievances, because your feelings, your thoughts, your life matters less.

And just like that, every resistance to the pleas about abusive treatment of my employees by their own coworkers is in the same league as, say, a victim of domestic violence being told their abuser really loves them but that they’re frustrated with the victim’s X quality or Y behavior, so if they’d just change that thing they wouldn’t attract that abuse. Despite the significant differences in quality and severity and magnitude and genre of the two scenarios, because my brain has recognized the common factor of a demand that an impacted person or group capitulate to and accommodate the unreasonable demand of the privileged as a valid comparison, I can now no longer encounter one without thinking of the other.

This inextricable tie has knock-on effects to how I interact with the people associated with that connection. I’m cautious and suspicious of everything they say and do, expecting to be burdened or betrayed (in big and small ways) in every interaction. Trust is slow or nonexistent. Velocity of work drops because every aspect is double- and triple-checked to avoid recriminations and negative consequences from any perception of a mistake on our part. Friendliness, empathy, camaraderie, collaboration, cooperation all take a hit. All because now every time I hear anything along the lines of “it’s just end of quarter tension”, “everyone is under a lot of pressure”, and “cut them some slack”, my mind fills with echoes of co-dependent excuses and images of black-eyed women ducking their heads every time a loud noise happens.

Even though I know, intellectually, that the unfairness leveled towards my team and violence against the helpless are worlds apart and not truly related, the kernel of similarity in the justification underpinning both types of behavior is enough that I can’t emotionally separate them. And that’s eroding my professional objectivity and my ability to cope with the unreasonable behavior linked to this perception.

So that’s a thing my brain does now: draws dark, somewhat irrational connections between unrelated concepts and taints my world view in the process. Awesome.

3 comments so far

  1. Widdershins on

    The connection is very clear and real.
    Both involve an abusive power structure, where those at the top expect their will, and all their tantrum-y actions, to be law no matter what the cost, in fact the cost is irrelevant to them.
    You are an even tempered person who works in a toxic environment (that WILL NOT change no matter how much you bend yourself out of shape) and there’s some part of you that expects not to get poisoned, and is profoundly hurt when it happens, every time it happens.
    There is a world where your wonderful self and your brilliant brain are honoured and respected. What you describe in these posts, ain’t it.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Thank you. For both the kind words and the bleak. I’m dubious that I’ll ever find that world you describe, but it’s nice to know you think it’s out there.

      • Widdershins on

        It’s closer than you think. 🙂


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