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The International Writers Magazine: Work Ethics

The Rules of Engagement
• Jude. C. Perera
I was a casualty of war, there is no better way of putting it. It’s a war that was both sinister and stealthy and famously lacking in any decency and chivalry. I have been stabbed in the back without ever feeling the dagger.

bad boss

There are no real conventions to monitor or safeguard the combatants, or rather shockingly there are more rules than one could care to think, but these are applied quite selectively. Its victims often go “un-vindicated” and are forced to master the unorthodox and the disgusting if they want to survive. Forced to give up their moral high ground.

Enough beating about the bush: I am referring to the work place of course. Potentially one of the dirtiest war zones on the planet. I have often fantasised, more so in recent times, how productive an employee would be, how creative, if his capabilities were unleashed, unfettered by the indignity of petty politics. His emotional energy and IQ harnessed towards achieving corporate objectives. Some of my colleagues callously accused me of day dreaming. Welcome to the real world they mocked. Play the game or get out. To hell with dignity and values, learn to fawn at the feet of authority and eventually I would stop feeling sick over it. Out of sincere affection they showed me the hand they had sometimes played so close to their chests. It was a crash course in corporate sensibilities. A wisdom that carried a heavy penalty: I would have to kiss some of my values away.

I was forced to reflect on these apparently easy choices over a very short space of time. I have been a victim. The economic downturn finally sniffed me out. Perhaps I was lucky to have escaped it for so long. An organisation wide restructure was announced with the traditional cost cutting at its heart, its merits to be measured by the number of scalps. It was game time, and I, in my naiveté braced for it by polishing up my resume and interview techniques. Engaging smaller fry like me was high on the agenda. I was touched of course and threw myself into volunteering my tuppence worth with vigour. The powers that be egged us on with their effortlessly identifiable nods. I did engage in networking though, with potential superiors, marketing my professional worth and attempting to cultivate my own luck. It went well, that was acceptable. But way too short as I found out through the rear view of hindsight.

I finally made a tremulous resolution to train on sucking up, get to know the basics at least. It meant nodding when shaking was mandatory; calling the grotesque beautiful, in short placing undeserving characters on makeshift pedestals. I even toyed with the crazy notion of joining some useless charities or clubs inhabited by some of these bloated heavyweights. But I cringed every time, a shame that shone on my countenance and poisoned my body language. I had failed a fundamental test with my acting, failed to convince myself that I was feigning well enough. It was going nowhere, and I happily gave up. The biggest change came when I got a break to work in a different section, for a short time. It felt like another planet, this mob was quite different, even strangely familiar. My kind. Praise was a function of professional output. I could relax and focus on what I had always wanted to focus on: work. They just expected people to be nice and friendly, to be human. I could live with that.

Somehow this process forced me to engineer some light bulb moments. Between bouts I indulged in a spot of introspective pondering. How could I ever be someone else? The truth was as simple as that. It surely sounded like a no brainer. But sometimes commitments: mortgage, kids, can force common sense in to an unsettling truce. And there was no such thing as conditional dignity or values. You either had them or you hadn’t. I even gained some enlightenment on those who wallowed in this habit. Survival of the fittest, a favourite cliché, and perhaps essential to rise and shine in some corporate cesspools. Those objects of their desire would utilise this subservience to snuff out any insurrection and preserve their tin pot dictatorships. This intel may perhaps free me from the cancer of standing in judgment that has been eating in to my peace of mind.

But this was not an anomaly that was peculiar to a certain sector or industry; I have learnt this the hard way. It was peculiar to the human state. Some played, some did not. It was the serenity prayer all over again, I had the sovereign right to choose. Perhaps turn in to a professional nomad and roam from pasture to pasture. Who knows I just might hit that jackpot of professional bliss which eludes all of us sometimes and some of us all the time.

I dearly hope the theory can be applied in practice, to a decent extent at least, because I still have a couple of decades of working life lying in wait for me.

I can now fully appreciate what my father put up with back then, in Colombo, as a busy executive for a top multinational. For us: his family. The migraines that came and went, and never came back since the day he retired. He chose not to opt for the easy way out as I want to. But hopefully I could assure him that I have been faithful to my code of ethics, to his.
© Jude. C. Perera October 2014
gogo72au at

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