“Why don’t you tell me how you really feel” – you know that expression we commonly use sarcastically when someone expresses a strong opinion? – Well, it doesn’t exist in many, of not most, other languages. Why? Because expressing a strong opinion or a judgment is completely normal, acceptable and expected in other cultures. A judgment doesn’t shock anyone. And that’s how it should be, as that’s a sign of real freedom. Hence, this response simply wouldn’t make any sense to those other people who don’t mind judging or being judged.
There are three irrefutable forces that drive a typical American office workplace. They are at the core of the office dynamics of every white-collar enterprise in America in general, and in SF specifically. These are the primary factors that make the typical workplace so depressing:
1. Excessive Political Correctness & Sexual Harassment Policies
Our conversations at work rarely go beyond “How was your weekend?”, “What are you having for lunch?” and “It’s a nice day today”. No one wants to get in any kind of trouble by saying anything even remotely controversial. If you express any kind of opinion, you run the risk of rubbing a co-worker the wrong way. What if he disagrees with you? What if you make him feel uncomfortable and he runs to the management to complain? From there – the road toward animosity and back-stabbing is pretty quick.
The paranoia of offending someone by having an innocent sexual joke perceived as harassment takes the pathological political correctness to another level. Besides having to avoid saying anything meaningful when it comes to politics, religion and other “sensitive” topics, we also have to make sure that we, god forbid, don’t make it appear like we are sexual creatures on any level. Flirting and subtle sexual innuendos are banned. By having sanitized our workplace from any hint of sexuality, we make our workdays so much longer, and our workplace so much more dull, hopeless and depressing. A day free of flirting and subtle sexual play, even when sex is not the goal, is not a fun day, to say the least.
2. Ass Covering
This element is translated into refusing to take any responsibility and having others sign off on every important decision, in addition to blindly complying with all kinds of meaningless rules and polices. Being a mindless zombie is the way to go. Someone complained about harassment or discrimination? Let’s play it safe and fire the “harasser”, regardless of whether anything happened or not. It’s just safe to go that way, because it makes the company look good – it took “strong measures” to prevent harassment. Why bother and investigate too thoroughly? Who cares about the truth? It’s the perception that really matters; not the facts.
3. Fear of Losing A Job
Whether it’s being laid-off or being fired for a reason or no reason, or simply because the (new) boss in on a power trip, the lingering anxiety over losing a job is always there, in the back of our minds. Will my mistake at work be overlooked by the management, or will I receive a warning? And will that warning be just that, or will it be your typical one-foot out the door PIP?
We tolerate BART strikes that lead to three-hour traffic stalls, garbage on the street and urine stanch, slowly but surely increasing homelessness, ghettos, never-ending construction, road repair and resurfacing, buses that jolt your whole body into intolerable nausea when they move and stop every block, and greedy landowners who drive cool places away that have been making this city so special and fun for so many years.
We put up with bad music in bars and clubs and we call overpriced, unhealthy, flavorless food fine dining, just because it is served at a futuristic looking, all-glass-no-comfort-or-warmth restaurants full of posers.
We call excessive drinking a “good time”.
Our reaction to a terrible movie or a show is “It was alright”. We stand in line in stores and restaurants not because we have to, but because everyone else does.
We love to say that we are happy even when we are not, and we smile even when we want to cry so badly.
The single among us love to say that we are single because we are too busy / too picky, instead of telling the truth – we give off an unfriendly vibe and so does everyone else around us. For instance, the couple in the picture above would look so good together, but they will never meet…
We call manly and angry looking women who act like they are God’s gift “independent” and “ambitious”.
We say “take your time” when we are extremely inpatient, and not because we want to but because that’s the “right” thing to do.
We pay three times more for everything to be living in an urban setting to only isolate ourselves from the outside world with white headphones, sunglasses and incessant texting.
Perhaps it’s time we considered throwing eggs and rotten tomatoes at a each other as a sign of all-encompassing revolt against anything and everything hypocritical and fake that surrounds us, to make a first significant step to abandoning patience and tolerance for the sake of something arguably far more important – authenticity – with others and just as importantly – with ourselves.
I have noticed very soon after coming to this country that talking about anything meaningful, controversial or painful is not cool during your off-work hours, however interesting and important it might be, because everyone just wants to have a “good time” – i.e. drinking, watching stupid movies and trashy mainstream shows. In the vast majority of social situations, you should be staying away from anything serious, and you should just stick to small talk, compliments, and nonsense, such as weather, travel, food, and other things that don’t really matter.
If you bring up anything serious with your friends, you are not cool and they will likely want to avoid you in the future. If you talk about anything serious on a date, to most people you will come across as not cool or weird, or you will be immediately thrown into a friends zone.
Talking a lot without saying anything is an art that the people in SF have mastered. This skill both masks and suppresses what’s left of their genuineness.
Floating above the surface in our interactions with each other is the kind of superficiality that we should be concerned about more and sooner. Flashy cars, overpriced restaurants, and vulgar fashion can wait till later. As of now, I will be eagerly waiting till being stupid goes out of style.
Walking around the streets of Moscow, I couldn’t help but wonder – do these people have as many psychological/mental issues as we do? Do they take as many anti-depressants and see therapists as often as we do? I seriously doubt it. I honestly don’t think that those solutions to their issues even cross their mind.
This lead me to wonder – is it possible that one major source of our mental problems, especially anxiety and depression, is the fact that we act so fake so often – we suppress so many of our negative emotions so often in our daily life. We hide fear, anger, frustration, and impatience behind small talk about whether and sports and smiling when we don’t mean it? We say “you go ahead first” when we are eager to go first. We say “take your time” when we don’t have time and we want things to be done as quickly as possible. We say “don’t worry about it; it’s fine” when it’s not fine, etc… Just smiling at strangers when you don’t feel like smiling takes a lot of energy.
Smiling is not a default human state. Smiling is a sign of being entertained or amused by something. If you are not, you should have a neutral facial expression. I suspect that when we act happier, more polite and more patient than we mean to be, this kind of suppression translates into other, deeper psychological problems, such as, again, anxiety, depression, and various mood swings.
This morning, the guy in line in front of me at McDonald’s Red Square asked for a bigger paper bag for his two cups of coffee. When the barista told him that it’s not good to have a bigger paper bag, because the coffee will be more likely to spill, he calmly replied: “Just do your job; It’s my problem.” Not the nicest response in the world. I, however, was fascinated more by the barista’s response to that. It was nothing unusual. She wasn’t upset or offended by it. It was just not a big deal to her at all, and she just moved onto the next customer – myself.
I by no means advocate this kind of interaction, but I wonder whether that guy is less likely than we are to flip someone off when driving or take Prozac, because he lets his thoughts and emotions out so freely….
One of the things that foreigners and other “outsiders” complain about when they come to California is the excessive political correctness of the locals. Meaningless smiles, weather talk, saying “I have to let you go” and “What are you doing later today?” instead of “I have to go?” are some typical examples of beating around the bush that you encounter every day.
I like how artfully people avoid the risk of appearing racist, due to their pathological fear of being perceived as such. This morning, I and my friend, who has a distinct Indian accent, went into one of the cafes in the Marina. As we were ordering coffee, the white barista had a hard time understanding what he wanted to order. After struggling for a few seconds and finally figuring out what he was saying, she quickly saved herself by saying that she had a really bad hearing.
As we were leaving, we were laughing, as we knew that her alleged hearing issues were a bunch of bs, but it was a good way for her to handle it. I think I have heard the bad hearing excuse myself in reference to my own accent before at least once or twice, so I suppose it’s nothing new.