Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hearts on Sleeves

...burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!' -- Kerouac

A couple years ago, a New York Times crossword puzzle clue was "Act unprofessionally." With five empty spaces for the answer, I had no idea where to begin. But as I solved other clues around that one, I cringed as I saw the answer come together: "EMOTE." It was the first time ever I had disagreed on principle with an NYT crossword answer. I don't think it's wrong to show your emotions sometimes because doing so means you care.

In fact, I've worked with quite a few people whose pulse never seemed to rise or fall too dramatically based on what was going on around us...with some exceptions, of course, those were some of the Least-Valuable Players (LVPs?) around. And the irony has never been lost on me when the people who offer unsolicited horn-tooting about how they're "cooler than Peyton Manning on third-and-long" sit around and relax while other people get spun up because those people have to roll up their sleeves and do the work.

Last week, I did something a wee bit out of character. A combination of factors led to it -- mainly, a string of consecutive, stressful 14+ hour workdays, and then having to schedule around part of Friday morning because I had a long-standing follow-up appointment from "that thing from October" at MGH. Well, anyway, I rolled into work just before noon, thinking about all the catch-up work from that morning plus all that I had to have ready for the coming drill weekend, our first AND last in 2011. Sure enough, someone who outranked me decided to make a snide comment about my "morning off." I tried to let it slide off my back and just kept walking, but he said something else. I asked for clarification, clearly in a tone/body language that I don't use every day, or even every month for that sake. He said it again, and I gave him another chance to clarify. After the proverbial third strike, let's just say I responded to those three verbal jabs to the temple with a verbal uppercut right under the rib cage. I shared some information about where I had just been, which threw him right back on the ropes. And then I just walked away, which might not sound like a big deal in the real world, but given the rank disparity could've led to an insubordination hearing.

I realize I may not be *capturing* what happened in a clear way, but I assume you get the idea. I basically told someone senior to me to pound sand, and walked away as he was responding. I wasn't even going to bring it up here, except on Saturday morning my boss did something similar. The command had directed him and all 12 of his guys to do some redundant, mandatory training that all of them had already done, in some cases several times over. He responded that he thought there were better ways they could use their time (with the word 'fuckin' inserted between every other word for emphasis, of course), and when the XO told him again that it was mandatory, end of story, he turned his back and walked away. This was followed by a few more four-letter words in a lively back-and-forth. When my boss relayed this all to me afterwards, I was like, "Well, we need more people around here who can show their emotions on their sleeves...and by the way, something like that happened to me yesterday."

So a few hours ago I was watching the clip from last week's Council meeting on Left in Lowell. I saw the ridiculous round of questioning from CC Caulfield which implied it must've somehow been CM Lynch's fault that the tax revenue had increased so much in the past few years. After CM Lynch tried to rationally explain that TOTAL tax revenue is actually a factor of many things, to include increased business activity, and that average rates had increased at 2.5% annually, CC Caulfield was either not listening or didn't care. It quickly became obvious from Lynch's tone that he was frustrated with the supremely-principled 'tax-nothing-but-don't-cut-anything' stance that Caulfield was taking. When CC Martin jumped in, his words and tone clearly conveyed his own frustration with what was going on. Could you blame him?

I'd go so far as to call this type of stuff the opposite of unprofessionalism.

I was wound tight from a hectic workweek spent solving problems and arranging events for the unit. I cared enough about it to fire back when someone made a crass judgement that couldn't have been further from reality. On Saturday, my boss cared so much about his people and their time that he resisted a directive, even doing this in a way that was well outside usually acceptable norms. At the meeting referenced above, the people who showed their emotions did so because they cared enough about the real business of the city to want to avoid wasting people's time with moot points and empty showmanship.

I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I'm invested in it. If I show that on my sleeve sometimes, I'll accept it, even if a crossword puzzle editor somewhere thinks that's unprofessional.

And just like the author quoted at the top here, I'll always prefer the company of the ones "who never yawn or say a commonplace thing" to the self-styled "Cool Hand Lukes" who scoff and snicker from the sidelines, and who stay parked in the dugout even after both benches clear.

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