It wasn’t a good start to the week.
After a blissful weekend, returning to the office renewed and re-motivated, things went rapidly downhill as the team launched itself into the time-honoured tradition of arguing over who was or was not pulling their weight.
The popular and widely played game of “who is having more stress than anyone else?” starts with the persistent feeling that everyone else seems to be having more breaks than yourself. By no means restricted to the non-smokers (who sit in the office again while the rest of the gang troop outside to damage their lungs), this game is also a popular pastime of the most yellow-fingered and tar-breathed veteran in the room. Somehow, in those moments when you look up from your ever-increasing in-tray, it always seems that everyone else is busy hanging around with nothing to do.
The next strategic move destined to bring you closer to your own personal hell is the demand for help. This request, taken from the seemingly righteous stance of the one who has been sold the thin end of the wedge, is then rebuffed with a list of why the others are worse off than you. At this point all players have the opportunity to air their grievances and list the many and terrible things that hang over their heads, before departing to ruminate on how they have been cheated, neglected, done over or otherwise given the worst deal of the day.
Add to the mix everyone else’s secret stewing resentment at even being there in the first place and it ends with pretty much everyone feeling like they’ve won the game.
Or should that be ‘lost’?
Because as the team sat and bickered about who had the worst time of all, the work didn’t get done, any willingness to work together had dissolved and we’d all lost the benefits of our two days away. No one was happy; everyone felt they were worse off than everyone else.
Not, as I said, a good way to go.
Maybe not, but I’ve been in enough workplaces to know this is a pretty common phenomenon, and it’s by no means restricted to work. This ‘it’s alright for you’ attitude is a kind of poisonous glue that holds us together as we wallow in our pain. It’s an addiction; a refuge; a place to hide when we’re in danger of having a good time.
This week, beloved actor/comedian Robin Williams took his own life and there were a number of voices grumbling that he had nothing to be unhappy about. As if being famous and popular and sitting on millions of dollars is everything a human ever needs (it isn’t), as if that stopped him being allowed to suffer any kind of pain.
This just doesn’t work.
Sadly, it has become a matter of honour to be unhappy, to struggle and suffer – a matter of pride to be making less, working more and generally missing out on the good things in life. It feels better to keep having a hard time than to move into the mysterious territory of feeling good.
So we suffer. And we perpetuate that suffering by making it clear we not only got the thin end of the wedge but that there really wasn’t much wedge left at all when we got to the front of the queue. And by talking about how much we’re suffering –so much more than anyone else, by the way – we keep it that way and our honour remains intact. Yeah, great idea.
Let’s change this.
Frankly, this behaviour is rubbish. It isn’t useful, it really isn’t honourable and it doesn’t improve your life in any way. Whether in the workplace or the world beyond, this kind of talk just escalates into a competition because it seems we all have a grudge to bear. And in this competition, nobody wins.
Yes, life can be a bitch. But while we’re wrapped up in our own struggles, we forget that others are struggling, too. We forget to notice how pretty damn good our lives actually are. We hold fiercely onto what little we have, keep the good stuff out and demand more to fill that hole. When we suffer like this, we have nothing to give.
What about a different way?
- What would happen if we started to see what’s good in our lives?
- What would happen if we took big and scary steps to feel full and happy inside?
- What would happen if we saw others’ pain as well as our own?
Happiness opens doors, permits compassion, inspires change. No longer needing to hold onto a hurt, we’re free to look outside and do what we can. And the process of giving, gives back.
I’d love you to try it and see.
Perhaps you don’t agree; perhaps there’s something I missed. Share your experience and opinions in the comments, please.