conscientious objection

This idea has been swirling around inside my brain for a while.  It concerns institutionalisation, careers, independent thought and generally having opinions about stuff.

Two acquaintances from different parts of working life came together in my thoughts recently.  Both men (one early 30s, the other late 30s) are really nice and pleasant.  They agree with everything I say to an almost boring extent. (Although perhaps they think I’m boring).  Both I find are naturally keen to please and agree with anything and everything anyone says, whomever their interlocutor might be.  So much so that they make for pleasant, amiable but essentially rather bland conversation.

In work meetings, the one constantly blurts

“absolutely”
“100 per cent”
“yeah, totally” – so anxious to give his support it seems like he can’t actually be listening and thinking.

How does such blind acceptance and apparent disengagement happen?  Because of careers?  A certain type of employer (and I’d wager the majority of employers) encourage and promote acquiescence, acceptance, obedience and agreement at all times.  They actively, although perhaps not voluntarily, deliberately or consciously, want people not to think too hard about what they’re doing, to operate within the defined parameters.

Naturally that makes sense if you are an employer; there have to be some rules and guidelines.

Yet to openly have independent thoughts and personal opinions at all: that can be dangerous, a risk. You’re told it’s not, of course, and that everyone welcomes open dialogue and new ideas.  In certain industries and workplaces though, it is not at all welcomed. People are threatened by unpredictable opinions. Although mine are not usually fierce or unbending opinions –  I’m always perfectly happy to be outargued by someone who knows more, or change my mind if it seems I am wrong – they are opinions nonetheless. And opinions of any kind are really not as common as you might think. At least not in my current world.

If you just agree and accept, life and work is easier, safer and more comfortable. Although making decisions can be hard for those people. That’s why you might come up against confused public sector inertia – older professionals perhaps, who sit behind desks playing solitaire, befuddled by much of this modern world. Nothing happens because nobody can confidently decide anything. Nobody wants to proffer a contentious opinion or make a decision that might be wrong. And there’s nobody available to agree with.

The world and the workplace reward people who don’t have opinions, people who are safe and nice and pleasant, who will passively agree to anything and get on with it. This is cosy and comfortable because it means industries and cultures don’t have to think too hard or be challenged about certain things concerning itself. It gives rise to institutionalisation, it breeds a fusty insularity even in the most public of arenas. This week’s Malky Mackay Cardiff City / Crystal Palace furore has turned a spotlight on football culture, what is and isn’t accepted within the game. Will anything really change as a result? Doubtful.

Everything is just easier if you’re not a pain.  Agree, accept, copy what everyone else does and we’ll all get along fine. Anyone else, you can be eliminated.

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