25 April 2014


Life in the Pit

This week I had another opportunity to put my word for 2014 into action . . . and of course I failed. =P

It happened on the metro. I was filing into the car reserved for women, children, senior citizens, and the disabled, when two people hurriedly squeezed in at my elbow. One of them was a youngish man, and the other was his woman companion, who was squealing, "Hurry before the security guard sees us!" The guard had already spotted them, though, and was blowing his whistle . . . and I was doing my part by saying, "Excuse me! Excuse me! I think the guard has something to say." (Sigh.) Unfortunately, the doors closed before the guard could tell them they were breaking the rules . . . and I spent the rest of the ride stewing at both their bad manners and my own reluctance to confront them.

"What would you have done?" I asked the older woman from work who occasionally advises me. You remember: she of the supplicating "I beg your patience" strategy.

She replied, "I would have said"--and here she raised her voice to an obnoxious volume--"'There are really some people who DON'T understand simple instructions! I HATE it when people who know better pretend they don't and then try to get away with it! Some people have no CLASS, and they're also the ones with no SHAME!'" She lowered her voice again. "And I know the rest of the people in the car would be on my side, even if they never speak up."

Ah, shame: nothing is more effective at getting your average Filipino to toe the line than the possibility that someone will comment loudly on his bad behaviour in public. (This is a sad LOL.)

But "getting people to overhear" (my translation of an actual Filipino word!) just isn't my style--which is fortunate or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it.

To all the non-Filipinos reading this: how would you have handled that situation?

* * * * *
When I think of Uni, I am filled with such an abhorrent surge of hatred that it could almost make me sick. To me right now, it seems like Uni crushes any little individuality or uniqueness you have, and squashes you down into a series of tick boxes and numbers whilst a beady-eyed examiner analyses whether you're deemed worthy of a piece of paper on the basis of how well you've regurgitated the stagnant words of some ancient professor of a bygone era who wouldn't even be able to tell you what a hashtag is.

When I think of Scarphelia, Gatherly, my band boys, travelling, writing--everything I'm doing to enhance myself on an extra-curricular basis . . . Well, I don't mean to sound blunt, but in comparison it's rainbows and fucking unicorns. I feel so passionate excited to the very fibre of my bones about everything I am doing here, that I just can't possibly justify it to myself that to give this up and to return my focus to academia, could possibly be the best thing for me.

-- Katie Oldham, who blogs at Scarphelia, on why she has decided to drop out of uni

There's so much more to growing a pair than standing up for yourself (or for the rules) in public. The highest expression of this sort of courage is choosing the good when everyone around you is discouraging it. That's what Katie is doing by choosing her own path through adulthood . . . and what I'm considering in the face of growing discontent with my job.

Katie's post is just the latest in a whole series of triggers. The first came last Sunday, when my mother told me about Pope Francis's Easter message about returning to our own personal Galilees . . . and it slowly dawned on me that my Galilee was the old call (if I ever had a call) to teaching in a Catholic school. It turns out that the longing is still there.

The second trigger came one evening later, when an old friend, who has always believed in me as a teacher, even after seeing me through the incredible failure that was my only attempt, gently pointed out that all the "reasons" I had been citing for not trying again no longer exist. Not when I can literally afford to quit my job before the next school year starts so I can take the necessary new courses for accreditation.

But it was through this current job that the third trigger came, during a discussion with an Italian trainee . . .

"In the past," he said, "you were poor because you chose to be poor by not working. Today, you can be poor even if you work fourteen hours a day or have two jobs. And meanwhile, the number of millionaires is growing."

It had occurred to me, as service-oriented and self-sacrificial as I am, that I earn the same amount of money for a good training session and an average training session . . . and that my CEO assigns the same monetary value to a thorough training report and a thoughtlessly written one. Accordingly, I've been pulling back at work and am planning on pulling back some more. Not for the principle of the thing (though this is the real battlefield), but for the sake of my blog. Yes, seriously.

Katie chose her blog over burning out at uni and I'm choosing my blog over burning out at work, because we get the difference between a lifestyle that nourishes us as we support ourselves and a lifestyle that sucks nourishment for itself from us, leaving us with no support. This isn't about choosing to fiddle away the summer instead of storing up food for the winter--not in our world, where you store up a silo's worth of supplies in order to make someone else a millionaire. If you're going to struggle anyway, then you might as well struggle doing something you love that also loves you back.

Image Source: Ball Pit demotivational poster


Belfry Bat said...

First-off, I've never heard of one subway car in a train being reserved for 〈category〉; particular seats in a bus or subway car, yes, but a whole car ... I suppose I can see arguments on both sides. But never mind!

There was one time I tried to point-out rules to someone who was breaking them, and the result was ... I'll tell you elsewhere.

I was on the tram a couple days ago, when a big man and a small woman had a disgreement about watching where one was going vs. getting out of the way, which a second big man interrupted to chew out the first big man for being so rude to a lady... it turned out well enough, but oh, there are such stories!

Bob Wallace said...

I would have grabbed the first guy by his shirt and thrown him out, then suggested to the woman she follow him as fast as she could.

I have done such things before. They have never tried to fight back.

Sheila said...

I would not have DREAMED, in a million years, of addressing the offenders! I mean, how does it exactly hurt me that someone else got on the wrong train car? I have known people to do the "loud third-person commentary" thing and I find it extremely rude in pretty much every instance. Around here it's usually done by ladies in their fifties who have nothing better to do than be nasty to women who have too many kids or baristas who are too slow with their drink. I detest that sort of people.

Actually I detest everyone who meddles in things that aren't their business. I am particularly cranky about this today because I had the cops called on me AGAIN by my neighbors. The two-year-old had stripped off his clothes to play in the rain, and my neighbor (whoever it was) wanted me to know that there could be creeps staring at him. Why she felt the need to get a police officer to say this to me rather than talking to me herself (or, you know, butting out) is beyond me.

*deep breath* Yeah, I try to be polite myself, but I would never, ever be the enforcer of public decency, morals, or manners. Not my bag. I'm probably contributing to the downfall of Western Civilization or something, but I can't change my motto away from "live and let live."

I think not going to college is a very smart and brave choice nowadays. It's a huge expense, and why should we go to it when these days it doesn't guarantee you a job .... or an education, either. It's just a bunch of hoops you jump through to get them to give you a degree, which will hopefully get you a job, except that it probably won't. I had a great time in college. My kids likely won't go .... breaking a three-generation tradition.

I read a complaint the other day by an employer about lazy Millennials, how they all do the very bare minimum at work and dash for the door at 4:55. I wanted to ask, "Are you paying for their best?" Because the standard in business these days is to demand people's best and pay them what they could make flipping burgers. I'm sorry, you do not get to be priority number one in your employees' lives when they are clearly priority number a million in your balance sheets. We're not dumb. We know we can't earn our employers' loyalty by giving them ours.

The proof is available: if you pay employees more, they "buy in" more and they output more. There's only so much indignity you'll suffer for minimum wage. John burned himself out for about a year at his last job, trying to be the best of the best. And he was probably the hardest worker in the company. You know what that got him? Nothing. So he slacked off to match everybody else, and nothing changed. It made him miserable, though, because he likes a job he can believe in. Thank goodness he has one again and can go back to working himself half to death. It makes him happy.

We all have to figure out what is worth doing, what is worth pouring all our energy into. It might not be a nine to five. It might not be a job at all. Sometimes the job is just to pay the bills so we can afford to do the things we love on our own time. And sometimes it's worthwhile to step out in faith and at least TRY to get the job we dream of.

I hope you do get back into teaching. That would definitely take some b---s!

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- And the first third of that car is reserved for senior citizens, handicapped people, children, and visibly pregnant women! I couldn't get into that section. LOL!

Bob -- You have such interesting solutions! I've asked another woman what she would do, and like the first one, she sketched a scenario that would open the door to a fight in public--which is not what I want to do. Your way is better because it's quick, direct, and over as soon as it happens.

Sheila -- That car was first reserved for women and children when women started complaining that they were being deliberately felt up in crowded trains. Think of it as a man using the ladies' room because the men's room was too far away for him to walk. Even if he practices extreme "custody of the eyes" and really just needs to use the toilet, he simply doesn't belong there.

What your neighbour did was a different story. If someone called the police on me for doing something that wasn't even against the law, I'd definitely confront that person. On the other hand, Filipinos are generally non-confrontational, so over here it's even ruder to go directly to someone. Here's another nutty example from my life. Many years ago, when I was a child, I threw a screaming tantrum that made my nanny wash her hands of me. It went on for some time, so the neighbours called village security. And the security guard who was sent over just stood under my window and hissed every time I needed to take a breath after a scream. (ROFL!)

"Millennials and the bare minimum" is totally my theme at work these days! Every time we give a lesson or write a report, we have to be guided by a template and to include certain elements. And I've started thinking, "So as long as I get all the elements in, the actual quality of my training and reports doesn't matter, right?" It's the adult equivalent of "Will this be on the test?"--a question I detested hearing as a teacher but absolutely understand now! =P

To tell you the truth, I absolutely understood this months ago. But like John, it kills me to turn in anything that isn't my best. Well, it may also be killing me to turn in my best on a regular basis: I've been taking more sick leaves in the past few months than I did during my first year and a half!

Management tries to dangle some carrots in front of us by doing random quality checks and tying the quarterly bonus to how good you are when they listen in on you . . . but the bonus is so small and so sporadic that it actually doesn't matter.

And it's really not about the money. We get a little bump on our base salary for every individual lesson we give--and the office joke is that if that is all we get, we'd rather be fined the same amount for turning down a lesson when we feel burned out!

Sheila said...

I figured that was why, but still, if they are not feeling anyone up, they aren't hurting anyone. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd address a man in the ladies' room either! I'd probably look askance, but that's it.

John got a "Christmas bonus" every year at his old job. It was a grocery store gift card. It actually made a difference to us, but it hardly counts as a "bonus"! Or they'd have a company party, but first an email would go around reminding everyone not to take more than two hors d'ouevres. They were incredibly cheap! There was lots of griping from the management about people's output, and John suggested they offer bonuses for the person who'd handled the most issues. Management was offended: "You should do your best simply because you want to, why would you get a reward just for doing what you should?"

Well, that just doesn't work anymore, if it ever did. Why would you want to work harder than you have to, when it makes *absolutely no difference* whether you do or not? I think what frustrated John the most was actually doing tons of things to help the company, and then having the management make stupid decisions that undid all his hard work.

The thing is, a lot of us are quite willing to be true partners in this whole business thing and pull our weight, if they would just *treat* us like partners instead of erring schoolchildren to be motivated with lollipops. Sigh.

Enbrethiliel said...


I take the metro often enough that I see men who clearly got onto the first car by accident, realised it too late, and then tried to look as inconspicuous as possible until they could get off. Everyone recognises it was an honest mistake. And sometimes women who don't want to split up the family for one train ride will make their husbands carry the babies while they take the heavy bags, just so the husbands meet the "children" requirement. I'd give a pass to anyone carrying a child and so does security, because at least they care about the rules. But that's not the scenario I experienced last week.

What I found so offensive about it was the entitlement. The woman wanted to take the first car because it was more comfortable, but she brought in someone who made everyone else in the car feel uncomfortable. It's like wanting to smoke in the no-smoking section because the smoking section is too smoky. The concrete effects may be different, but the entitlement is the same. There are reasons other than "Someone is actually being hurt" to call out bad behaviour when we see it. Or rather, there are reasons other than preventing injury behind the norms of good behaviour.

My company can be generous when it comes to some things, like giving the "13th month" bonus, throwing a festive Christmas party, or helping out those in serious financial difficulties; but at the same time, they ride us really, really hard. The chillest employees are those who only work part-time--an arrangement my company discontinued because part-timers were also offered full insurance coverage and the company was losing out on the deal. I'm seriously considering asking my manger to take me off the insurance just so I can work part-time!

Bob Wallace said...

I have no problems with fights in public. I have been in several of them.

Belfry Bat said...

That may well be, O Bob, but I'm not about to encourage such a lady as our Enbrethiliel to do likewise except in self-defence. She shouldn't have to, anyways!

Enbrethiliel said...


I don't want to get involved in a fight, but so far, taking physical action is the best suggestion that has been offered. Not just in comparison to others' comments, but because I did suspect, about a second before I heard the woman telling the man to hurry, that they would try to rush into the car. I also had about a second after that to use my arm to block the door so that the man couldn't get in--at least not without knocking me over. And that would have been a prime position for me to have shoved him back and said firmly, "This is the women's car."

No drama, no theatrics, no escalation . . . just doing the right thing at the right time. That's what these posts on my word for 2014 are about: going over all the times I wish I had done something, but didn't . . . and preparing myself in case there's a next time.