Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Outside looking in

I've always been a non-group person, also known as an alone person. That means I've always shied from group things, support group, focus grups, meetings, events, etc., and I only go to photograph them now. But that also means I always looked at groups and their issues from the outside, like someone who peers over the edge of a box looking inside where everything happens.

While it's not afforded me the opportunity to be part of anything or a group, and obviously missed a lot of the inside stuff and work, it's afforded me a different perspective on those same groups and their issues and stuff. But this being outside wasn't all my doing or choice as I've found many groups are often very elistist and heirarchal, meaning new members aren't heard or seen, just there, and for the grunt work.

Well, I don't take to that attitude. I had this the time I joined the Sierra Club. I had been a member for years but decided to become an active member when they announced a weekend workshop for interested new members. Except it wasn't so much a workshop as a weekend camp of work while the team leaders and senior club members and leaders behaved like dictators.

Since I paid for the workshop I expected more than what happened. For one when I arrived I was told where I'd sleep, some old bunkhouse without rooms let alone bathrooms and what I'd be doing in the kitchen, meaning cleanup for which meals - aka, busboy, dishwasher, and dining room cleanup.

Then I was told what workshops I was eligible for as a new member, which were lead by people who told you the Club's views on issues and what you'd be doing to help the Club on those issues. And when I raised question or questioned their views on the issues, I was less than politiely told there was the Sierra Club's view (straight from SF office) expected from all members. No other view or opinion is tolerated.

Here I was with a MS degree and many years in the USGS ready to help on water resources issues and problems, and I'm told I have to start by writing letters, stuffing envelopes, and making phone calls for ballot initiatives. They simply didn't care what education, experience, skills or talents you had, you're just a body for their bidding and work. Not what I do.

Suffice it to say, I left early telling them where to stick their workshop and where to put the Sierra Club. I also left the Club at the end of the next year's membership - I didn't renew it. While they have achieved a lot for the environment in this country, I still think the Club sucks. I don't and would never recommend being a member of it.

But that's what I could do being outside looking in, to see them at face value and in the light, and then walk away shaking my head. And, as I said, I didn't get there wholly by myself. Only it started by being naive and becoming a believer in that old button, "Question Authority".

Unfortunately I learned this in the Air Force with my court martial, but that was after a previous incident. Once a year the squadron had to assemble for a full inspection, meaning the General walked through and looked at, and sometimes stopped and talked with, every member of the squadron.

After the inspection four lower grade Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) were called to the commander's office for a talk for presentation and uniform violations. We met the commander as a group and he proceeded to exclaim what we did wrong and what reprimand would occur when I asked, "Why were there only four of us picked and not any senior NCO's who were obviously and some more so in violation?"

I was taken aside and asked about it and I explained since the senior NCO's were the one to called the troops for violations, they didn't note any of them when I saw several worse than me - sideburns, pants too short, unshined shoes, etc., within eyesight. The general wanted names which I refused to give until he promised anonimity after which I told him.

Well, that didn't sit well with the senior NCO's, because half a dozen were reprimanded and we (four) were exonerated. But the squadron first sargent was cool with it and told me thanks. But this started me on the life of that button, always question and always ask why.

And it continued through graduate school, being one of two "representatives" of the graduate students to present the Chairman and faculty of the Department with grievances (I didn't volunteer but was "elected") and into the USGS, but there I learned when I got promoted to middle management and a supervisor to pick my fights, but still, when the chips are down, always be willing to bet your career against management.

I say this because I learned if you did your homework and had support from some regional or headquarters senior staffers you could challenge local management on almost any issue and win, or at worse get a draw. I helped others' careers and work, and earned respect for being a manager who did represent and speak for the staff. But I lost recommendations for promotion for it - you need their approval and recommendation.

They didn't want me one of them at that level, being a data chief, and it pretty much sowed the seeds with my bosses (two layers up) to retire earlier than planned. But while they thought they won, they lost. They lost a great employee, dedicated believer in the USGS and its work, and passionate manager for the staff.

But I won my freedom. And even now on forums or in groups I'm still the outsider looking in and getting in trouble with others who disagree with me. They don't understand or don't want to understand opinions are just that, opinions. Everyone has one and everyone's is equal. Just don't tell them that.

Which is something I haven't learned yet and likely won't now. People hold onto their opinions so hard and tightly they can't see the truth and reality of them. They don't know to put an opinion, idea, decision, whatever, on the table for everyone to see, review and question. You never know where a better idea, more information, or something to change your mind will come from and from whom.

But if you live in a box, you'll only get the views and opinions from others in the box. Outside I can see more and see the broader life and world. While it's often lonely standing out there, outside of any box, But then I've always try to follow the advice I keep on my quotes Web page.

"Be good, be kind, be truthful, and be free."
"I know what it takes to be lonely; I know what it takes to be free."
"Knowledge is free, but you must bring your own container."

And especially the lines from the song "That's what living is to me" by Jimmy Buffett

Be good and you will be lonesome.
Be lonesome and you will be free.
Live a lie and you will live to regret it.
That's what living is to me.

Not much more to say except I'll keep on wandering outside the box.

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