Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wouldn't it be nice...? 

Call me naive, but wouldn’t it be good to be paid for being nice to people? Oh, I don’t mean that doing good deeds necessarily deserves a reward, or that there should be any expectation at all of getting anything in return. It’s just that I’ve been applying for jobs, and when you look at the competencies and behaviours that are being sought, there’s a distinct undercurrent suggesting that the personal characteristics which are rewarded are anything but nice.

Take a look at what’s behind some of these phrases:

“has strong influencing skills” – is a manipulative control freak
“understands the importance of relationship development” – knows how to get close enough to people to find their weak spots/ spike their drinks/ dig the dirt
“analytical thinker” – scheming bastard
“has commercial acumen” – knows how to bend the rules without being caught

Am I too cynical? I may be exaggerating, but there’s no smoke without fire. I bet you smiled in recognition at some of those interpretations. When was the last time you saw a job description that asked for kindness, compassion or love? They’re just not commercial. It seems that, just as money can’t buy love, so love wont be associated with money. And that’s just as it should be.

I never did say anything about why I quit counselling, did I? There’s much to tell, but although I’ve tried writing about it several times I always get bogged down; the subject is just too big to contain in a few paragraphs. But there was one incident which was the catalyst that prompted my decision.

I’d missed a session at short notice. Normally 48 hours notice was required for cancellations if the cost of the session was to be waived, but my wife had to go into hospital unexpectedly and I wanted to visit her; although I only gave 24 hours notice, I imagined the circumstances would be classed as extenuating, and there’d be no fee. I was wrong, and I was utterly taken aback. Not by the logic, which was entirely reasonable – there was a clear agreement, by whose terms I was responsible for payment - but because I’d always kept the human and the commercial elements of the counselling relationship quite separate in my mind, and now they were brought abruptly together in a way that confused and disoriented me. I had always seen my counsellor as a trusted guide on my voyage of self-discovery; now I also saw her as a businesswoman, profiting from my muddled mental state. All of a sudden, it was a stranger who faced me across the room, and the foundations of our relationship were shaken and crumbling. I didn’t know how to deal with it and became unexpectedly and uncharacteristically angry. I quit the next week. My anger had gone as soon as I had realised its source – fear of the unknown – but so had my faith in counselling when undertaken as a commercial arrangement.

At one time I found the idea of being a counsellor myself very attractive, but I could never quite get my head around the idea of charging clients money for the service. I might offer counselling out of caring, out of concern, out of love, even for the pleasure it might bring me in being able to help others, but never in return for money. In hindsight, I realised I’d even avoided eye contact as I handed the cash over at the end of each session, as though I was pretending this part of the process wasn’t really happening.

I’ve never bothered with working my way up the Corporate ladder, for the simple reason that neither money nor status have ever meant a great deal to me, which in turn of course means that I’ve never amassed much of either, at least in comparison to most of those immediately around me (although in global terms I suppose I’m probably in the top few % on both scales). But when you live in a world that seems to operate exclusively in those terms, how do you make a living out of ways of being that occupy a totally different paradigm – a paradigm where value is attached to such unfashionable notions as goodness and kindness? Even non-religious types tend to agree with the Biblical saying that “A man cannot serve two masters”.

So I wonder what’ll happen if I get called to interviews for any of these jobs? Looks like I’d better brush up on my manipulative skills influencing skills and learn to be a scheming bastard practice my analytical thinking. Either that, or figure out what “Making a living” would look like in this other paradigm.

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