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Life as performance art


By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

In the United Kingdom, “jobsworths” are people who know every rule in the policies and procedures manual and are zealous about excessively enforcing them. It is not a term of endearment.

We have them in this country too. From time to time we hear about traffic wardens who slap a parking ticket on an ambulance while EMTs are trying to save lives elsewhere.

There are garbage truck workers who won’t pick up bins because they aren’t in the right place, but get out of their truck to measure the distance and leave a snippy note that the bin was two inches out of line.

There are factory foremen who go around with a clipboard and stopwatch to monitor restroom breaks, docking workers’ pay for being a few seconds late.

When someone objects, they fall back on the old line, “I’m just doing my job,” or insist there are rules and it’s their duty to enforce them. Forget people — it’s obeying paper and doing things by the book that matter most.

In moments of mental weakness, I feel sorry for them. The poor souls must be so bullied and abused by others they think that their only resort is to take it out on someone else. It’s hideous to think that a person could be so angry at the world he or she believes it’s acceptable to be as nasty as possible.

Sometimes it’s company management that abuses their employees, micromanaging them till their workers snap. A couple decades ago there were stories about postal workers who cracked up and started shooting. This begat the term “going postal.”

More recently, we’ve seen it happen with tragic results at factories, warehouses, businesses and schools.

Our usual first response is increase security. More law enforcement, more zero-tolerance policies and more wea-pons. Even if it works it has limits, because anyone who truly wants to hurt someone else will find a way to do it.

For example, after England all but banned handguns and put severe restrictions on long guns, the weapons of choice became knives, cars and throwing acid on other people.

Maybe it’s time we take a different approach. It would start with a conversation, listening, understanding and caring for people as individuals. I believe most of our problems can be solved that way, whether at home, work or maybe between nations.

In the bitterly-contested 1932 Presidential election, Will Rogers shared a dandy idea. President Herbert Hoover and challenger Franklin Roosevelt had been viciously attacking each other, prompting the pundit of Oklahoma to suggest the two of them “take a day or so off from campaigning and go fishing.”

It wouldn’t be the boat size, pier length, types of rods, reel or bait, if the two caught their limit or got skunked. For at least a little while two people would talk with, rather than at, each other.

That still seems like a good idea.

Is the Senate really needed? The 435 bodies that make up the U.S. House are, in my mind, much more effective than the Senate. Do these out-of-touch, self-indulging, oratorically-skilled men and women truly represent our interests or their own?

I think you know the answer.