Archive for February 25th, 2011

Zen and Workplace Politics

It seems that as each month goes by I get a little more busy at work. We have a lot of high priority and high visibility projects in our department and they are demanding more and more of my time and energy. This is a good thing as it’s been a great opportunity for me to learn some new stuff and it’s also given us an opportunity to stand out as being able to get stuff done. However, it also means  having to deal with a lot of political issues and frustrations.

One of the biggest frustrations has been the “That’s Not My Job” complaints that pop up whenever we deal with people and groups who have specific roles and responsibilities. People don’t try to be difficult intentionally, the difficulty they cause is most often a byproduct of their own efforts to do their job to the best of their ability. Regardless of the cause, the fact remains we’re trying to finish up some projects and getting support for some critical steps has not been as easy as we would like (though things here are not as bad as I’ve seen in other places and stuff does get done eventually).

Today, one of my team members was relating a problem like this to the rest of us. He asked, with some exasperation in his voice, “Why does it have to be like this?” Without thinking about it, eight months of Zen studies kicked in and I answered his question by saying with a rather calm and non-sarcastic voice, “It’s snowing outside”.

Flowers in Springtime,
Moon in Autumn,
Cool Wind in Summer,
Snow in Winter.
 If you don’t make anything in your mind,
 for you it is a good season

He looked at me and politely asked me what the hell that has to do with anything as it was obvious we’re in the middle of a late-February snow storm. I apologized and explained to him I’d just had a moment of Zen clarity and wasn’t trying to cause any problems.

What I meant was this: we have as much control over other people as we do over the snow that was falling outside. The reactions and behavior of others is just as frustrating as the snow that was falling from the clouds. Just like the snow, no matter what we do, we cannot stop the annoyance caused by other people’s words, behaviors, actions, decisions or attitudes. The frustration that we feel comes from our own desire to control the situation. We want the snow to stop, we want the other person to accept responsibility for doing something, we want the guy in the next cubicle to stop sneezing, we want the dull pain in our head to go away: these are all the same. We suffer when we cling to the idea that we can, or should be able to, change things to be the way we want. People will do what people will do. It is never up to us to control them or their behavior: it’s not possible. The only thing we have control over is how we react to these things. Just like we deal with the snow falling from the sky we need to deal with these frustrations.

There is no great secret to be learned. There is no moment of clarity when the world opens up. There is only the slow realization that things are what they are and it is our place to experience them as they are. When I stub my toe or I’m hit in the head by a ball or I’m smelling a beautiful flower or looking at an artistic masterpiece, I  react. I experience pain or pleasure, joy or frustration and that is what I experience at that moment in time. Things happen and we happen along with it. This is the realization that hit me so hard in the middle of a meeting at work where we were discussing how difficult it has been to get things done. The snow is falling, my new tattoo is itching, others won’t accept responsibility for what needs to be done. Whatever it is, I have work to do and all I can do is focus on my work. Complaining will not change things for the better. Politics will be politics. Snow will be snow. Why does it have to be like this? It’s snowing outside.


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