Sunday, December 14, 2003
4 Idle Chatter
This week is all about recon. Mr. Sullivan, despite the seasoned executive speaking style reminding you of a father of a teenage girl talking to the boy taking her to the prom, hates travelling for business. As a result, I'm given a respite from the cubicle and given a chance to return to company headquarters.
Headquarters was my old home. Culturally it's still much more comfortable than my usual surroundings. Things just get done easier with less resistence, cost or worrying. The local vernacular is quite refreshing.
A familiar language and a culture is inviting and even exhilirating when you miss having it around, until you see right through it to the underlying message.
Today the language wasn't about work. It was about Saddam Hussein being found in his hole. Old colleagues and new coworkers yapped on and on and on. They mirrored the personalities beaming on the television sets repeating the 5 facts there were (1. Discovered. 2. In a hole. 3. Dishelved 4. Disoriented 5. Had gun but didn't use it). Everything else, however was idle chatter. So many hours multipled by so many channels multiplied by so many locales of idle chatter.
I didn't used to think about idle chat being such a negative until recently. Buddhists even consider it wrong. But think of the energy--the number of human beings centering their thoughts over something that can bring absolutely nothing to the improvement of society.
When you don't fully understand a work culture and its language, you can't really identify its idle chatter. In that sense, it's actually more constructive. You're learning about the culture through its chatter. It's only disappointing with more knowledge.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
3 Making the numbers
Meeting the Dalai Lama could definitely be categorized as a spiritual experience. Other spectator sports, however, are often seen as being far from spiritual. Sports metaphors are often carnal, pitching duels, devastating matchups and the such.
Sports, however, determines the numbers flashing across the screen. The athletes train for the express goal of boosting a team’s statistics (points) the point where they can be rewarded with more numbers. The rewards come from the spectators: 20,000 in the arena, a few million on television and radio, a few tens of groupies eventually hundreds of thousands of news media, t-shirt vendors, and more noise.
It’s truly captivating and events are actually taking place somewhere. At the same time, most watch for fantasy for that lust for incredible, emotional victory. All in thirst.
But after the thirst, what’s left is a beer belly, a hangover, high cholesterol and an empty wallet.
Of course, gambling on sport could make it more appealing. Not only would there be the fantasy but the opportunity to trade those guts for a little cash.
The personal results of Mr. Sullivan manipulating and allocating sweat, breath and fears into productivity and trading risk on Tim Duncan overmatching Jermaine O'Neal aren't much different. Both end up with a net gain or loss, a sense of challenge and adventure as Sullivan's plan goes through the paces or the overgrown men run up and down a small stretch of floor.
Inherently, I know that Sullivan adds more to society--at least if everyone dedicated their lives to sport, society would quickly fall apart, whereas if everyone dedicated themselves to creating profits by making and marketing products and services we would end up in a world not to different than today.
The Dalai Lama was in town and the thought of taken big leaps toward spiritual enlightment and an immediate letting go of it all were all too appealing. I plopped down $300, slinked into a suit and joined the throngs downtown for a big revival that wouldn't be caught dead calling itself a revival. The excitement was as real as it gets. The heart was fluttering, nerves were anxious and the crowds of security made it seem like we were really in for something big.
There are thousands of things that can make the same sensations possible. It might be a grain of salt first touching the tongue as the stomach groans, an insightful photograph, a beautiful woman, a pop rock for the first time. Tonight though, even before the man arrived, it was about the ether, the intoxicating notion that the 500 people in the room were in the wake of something big about to happen.
An aged woman sat with feathers in her hair staring at the stage. On one side was a woman in grand, flowing robes with gold highlighting her forehead nervously shifting her head looking both excited and fearful. On the other was a man, possibly a husband, snapping his digital camera furiously, standing up, sitting down and has perspiration accented his otherwise nondescript dress. Across the table sat a matron, in an exaggerated dress and a face marked by history but today masked in pastels, glosses even in great hope, like a 13 year old stylized for her first dance with a boy.
Amidst such energy was the paradox of the night. The man of honor had few possessions, spent most of his life sleeping and meditating, yet made more of a difference and most mortals ever would. The spectators wore their prized jewels, watches and dresses for a man who was asking them to give up those material things and put to better use what was underneath the makeup. I came seeking a gentle calm, but to get there needed to wade through a throng of embellishment and security.
The rock star, err monk, emerged from the side doors clutching his hands together. While everyone knew his gentle smile and hands to offer prayers and peace, it very well could have been just a little protection from the flashbulbs that might one day give him cataracts. The mob encircled him seeking a glimpse, a touch, a connection.
The introduction was suitable and perfectly rehearsed, bestowing absolutely no new wisdom or insights on the crowd. Idle chatter so well prepared seemed a great offense to the teachings that the Dalai Lama had presented for decades. Still, it was the culture’s gift to him and an experience of the cruelties reserved only for those in the spotlight.
Tibetan words flowed from his chest as a mesmerized crowd looked on him. A baby pouted in the distance causing him to turn and crack a few funny faces, ignoring the translator, diligently making Japanese tones in hopes that they were clear and inoffensive. His holiness, between speaking of global religious harmony and eliminating destructive emotions, swayed back and forth like a 4 year old disappointed to be chained to his mother’s hand but captivated by the attention he was gathering from the bigger people around him.
Once finished, he enjoined the crowd to pepper him with a couple questions. People obliged, presenting still more idle chat. His message was not the focus. It failed to register in the throngs of people who made up their minds long before wiring the money and entering the room.
When someone urges a captive audience to eliminate religious discord, the appropriate response of the mob would be to a little discomfort from guilt striking chords. People seemed joyful amidst a sober message that called to action each person, but that few would actually consider acting upon.
At the end of the hour, tears fell, arms reached out and shouts emerged in hopes that they would establish that connection with his holiness. Even in the face of compassion incarnate, nobody would yield their spot, help an elder person or offer up a moment of patience for their fellow human beings, all seeking the same connection.
A banquet ensued following the speech from a man who preached compassion for all sentient beings. Lobsters, fish, and cows were consumed amidst a few mind muddying drinks.
I can’t help but think that there were people disappointed in the hour. People seemed to bring their expectations along with their Louis Vuitton. Today was not my magic pill of enlightenment, but at least walk in a path much more coherent than watching numbers fluttering by on a computer screen.
I sat there watching numbers. These weren’t even numbers that could be translated into anything real, but I was hoping and praying for those numbers to move in my favor. Someone on the Earth, some real people were determining the outcomes of these numbers. My pleasure came from the challenge. The sick pleasures of watching the numbers go up in hopes that they might be slightly hire than some other bloke’s numbers. I had strategies for my numbers. Maybe I could trade one group of numbers for someone else. Maybe I could dump them into Microsoft Excel and gain some great new insight. I was trading the numbers ticking away on the clock for the numbers flashing on my screen. One moment triumphant, one moment not. Somewhere, where the events that determined the numbers were taking place, someone might be bribing the actor, chatting with a market maker and making it turn into numbers in a bank account. But I didn’t care, I wanted to absorb the emotional punishment and experience the roller coasters in the safest way possible—as a spectator behind a screen.
At the same time, there are other numbers I could be watching. Numbers that could actually be turned into food, rent, and the such. But with real numbers, there's real risk. The effort just doesn't seem worth it. I don't mind watching those numbers. They can be just as exciting. It's just when they're my numbers that the world changes from safe, fleeting and fascinating to daunting with the aroma of an oil deal gone bad.
With a few visualizations, charts and the such I might be watching a gamelike display of the dance of the semi-relevant numbers. But there's a purity to seeing the simplest, fastest numbers...and much more a purity to seeing just how wrong your interpretations of those numbers are after looking at them through the lense of hindsight.
It’s not like I didn’t have things to do, just nothing more stimulating at the time. Every day I stumble into my cubicle hoping to not create a stir and forever fearing that I might get noticed as being a few minutes late. Once behind the artificial walls, I’m safe again: lots of screens in front of me, pens, phone, desk, calendars, clocks, books, headphones. There are infinite tools for me to stare into space with. But I still don’t see anything. Rationally, I’m here to collect a paycheck. I get business cards and the ability to tell the world, I am a member of the club of people who have nice titles, get associated with successful companies and are thought to be above average.
I work as the technical assistant to Mr. Sullivan. He’s a media executive sticking his head in the cubicles of a tech firm for the first time 3 months ago. He reminds me of a solar flare. Executive Vice President of Interactive Services sounds just so spectacular. He blazes in with the staunchest résumé and list of contacts anyone’s seen in years. But after these fateful months, nobody really seemed to notice except for the brownnosing community. They got a few drinks, funny stories and hopeful a few bonus points saved up for the 360 degree reviews.
Sullivan’s one of the good ones though: constantly learning, networking naturally, and genuinely aiming for the next rung. He does no harm, doesn’t yell at people and isn’t out to destroy people.
The day’s almost over. I watched more numbers. I failed to see the numbers I wanted today. Sullivan assigned a couple research projects that I already know the answers to. Songs are running through my head and making me feel lively and energetic. Yet, I know I did nothing, created no value, stimulated some axons but just tried to make a little impact, for better or worse, than before.