You have to listen first
The last year I worked for the IRS, my team and I were surprise to learn during our annual training that our entire job had been changed, effective immediately. No warning from on-high about a coming shift, just another mandatory briefing via e-learning module casually outlining how our job was going to work from that point forward. I was so shocked when I went through it, I assumed there had been some kind of mistake. But since we were each taking the assorted courses asynchronously I was alone in my cubicle with my confusion. So I leaned over the wall to ask my neighbor.
They had not reviewed the briefing yet. Neither had most of the rest of the team. The one team member who had also seen it agreed with me about its content. So directly to the manager’s office we went. She had also not seen that one yet, but heard our concerns and told us she would watch it immediately and get back to us. I called my union president and let them know what was going down.
A couple hours later our boss called an emergency team meeting. In short, she was flabbergasted. Completely gobsmacked by the everything different we were apparently supposed to be doing starting last week. She told us to sit tight while she ran her objections up the leadership chain. Meanwhile, the union chapters were talking to each other and preparing to inform the upperist of upper management they had missed some important procedural steps.
Some while later my boss received an email titled Cease and Desist. “Oh good,” she thought, “the Union paused this madness until we can talk through the impact and implementation of such a massive change.” Nope. It was from upper-upper-upper management ordering her to cease and desist her rabble-rousing and fall in line with the changes. Good try, boss. Sorry Senior Leadership thwarted your attempt to manage in-line with the contract and advocate for your employees’ rights.
So a procedural battle ensued, management rolling back it's changes until the execution of the new job order could be formulated in accordance with our employment contract. What we learned much later (during the many-months-long union-management throw-down) was it all started because some analyst sat in their office for two years crafting a solution to a problem apparently identified from on-high. That’s not all that unusual, but the problem in this case was they didn’t ever talk to any of the people actually doing the job. Not once. No focus groups. No surveys. Nothing.
That's completely asinine. How can you solve a problem you don't understand? You can't. And yet many people and organizations try to do just that all the time. Countless NGO's are working all around the world at this very moment to solve problems they don't fully understand for other people in other places with other cultures. And it's not going very well in most cases. Afghanistan is a perfect example of America rushing in to another country to solve its problems without listening to the locals.
Statistics are wonderful and numbers can provide a lot of insight, but they are completely useless without context. And to understand context, you have to talk to the people living, working, and raising their children in that context every day. Even more importantly, you have to listen to what they tell you. Fortunately there are some great examples of folks doing just that. A doctor in Boston has been treating patients who don't have an indoor place to live for the last three decades. He has been successful in understanding his patents' needs and treating their ailments precisely because he listens to them.
There are also some scientists getting out of their labs and into the streets to advocate directly for changes they hope to create in the world. I heard a conversation this week between some of these activist scientists on the BBC program Science in Action. One person discussed the need for diversity of tactics to create lasting societal change, which is a key point. Some folks need to be holding up signs and shouting through bullhorns among the masses. And some folks need to be in the lab doing the science.
Modern society has a lot of problems that need to be solved. And as historian Hugh Ryan so eloquently explained in a recent episode of the History is Gay podcast: it all comes down to whether people are getting the care they need. People who don't have housing need care. People who are addicted to harmful substances need care. People who don't have enough to eat need care. People with medical conditions need care. Traumatized people need care.
As a societal collective, we are not taking care of all of us. Our system is not set up to do that right now, but it could be. We could restructure it and I want us to do that. But first we need to listen to all the people who need care and support when they tell us what they need. Listening to others starts with listening to yourself. Spend some time getting to know yourself and identifying the filters through which you process the world. If we all do that, maybe we can stop thinking we know what other people need better than they know themselves. Then maybe we can take better care of each other.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.