The Big Bureaucracy in the Sky

Saturday 30 April 2011

For centuries and millennia, the "big mean god outside yourself" has ruled over cultures and civilisations.  There is nothing like something more powerful than you whose actions you can't predetermine to keep you in line.  Children the world over with unstable parents understand how that drains their adrenals, making shaky the ground underneath their feet.  Just waiting till the big god turns up in thunder and quake to tell them how they have got it wrong this time.

Then I think of Jesus saying things like, "No, no, the kingdom of heaven is within you.  Go searching there for God.  What you see out in the world is what you are projecting out onto it.  Go inward to find new ways of understanding."  And yet Christianity  was co-opted by the power structures-that-be and turned into a weapon to use against the people.  The same old same old.  A remix of the angry distant god in the sky, just waiting to send people to heaven or to hell, a destination you could never be sure of until you got there and it was too late.

I jump now to the workplace situation here in Australia.  We don't project our power out onto a distant god in this workplace.  We project it out into a big faceless bureaucratic book depository, so that now it is not enough for one person hiring for a position - say, a childcare position - to be able to use their intellect and intuition and understanding of the life experience of another - say, a mother with two children - to determine whether that person will be able to do a good job.  Even though the mother obviously has the experience, she must complete various certificates, jump through various paperish hoops, so that the childcare centre can breathe a little bureaucratically easier because it can tick the right hoop boxes and cover its legal bottom.  It is only with the pieces of paper in place - the police checks, the various certificates doing stuff she already knows - only then can the childcare centre believe that the mother is to be trusted to do the job she is asked to do.

It's the same-old same-old.  The everyday people's own autonomy overridden in the name of getting the safety and peace we crave by instilling it in something or someone outside of ourselves.  Rather than being able to discover our own autonomy by going within for it.  The internal autonomy that breeds creative thinking, a personal power that in the right wind can breed kindness.

A workplace culture where the people themselves are allowed to develop and use their wisdom and commonsense in assessing other people's fitness for positions would be a far safer one.  It would not be an easier one, though.  The people who are making responsible decisions would have nowhere else to run to but than to their own responsible decisions.  And that's scary.  Because people are different, and that is surely giving too much, well, space and authority to one person, is it not?  Surely better to invest that authority in dusty law shelves containing Acts and Rules and Procedures drawn up to govern the people, which nobody reads unless they have to because those things are dead.

So to enforce those Acts and Rules and Procedures, strangely-wigged individuals who neither know nor probably really care about these particular incidents judge the people according to the squiggles and lines in the Acts and Rules and Procedures.

In the workplace, the people who are walking around alive doing the actual position must go and get their authority to do that position from groups of other people who do the training and set up the hoops for them to jump through for their pieces of paper.  Other people who do not know you and will maybe never see you again doing your job you are allowed to do after you get your little piece of paper.

This is the continual, ongoing and dreary method employed by bunches of people who are so scared to make decisions from an internal authority base.  We need to make everything as safe as possible, and in the very process of trying to get that in some Excel spreadsheet form everything is awfully unsafe because nobody is allowed to act freely.  We always have our eye on What Is Expected of Us By the Outside.

There is no more unsafe a position than outsourcing the inherent authority and wisdom and power and experience that can be contained in one single human being allowed to live freely, to learn and to make mistakes.  That may not be bureaucratically safe.  But we are not bureacrats.  We live and we breathe.

There would surely be nothing safer (though life can never be safe) than a culture where people are allowed to learn how to feel at home in their own valuable skins, and how deep we people go, not just in stupid directions but also in wisdom directions.  It's not until you are safe in your own skin that you are free to observe the higher universalities that make a community a common fraternity rather than a gaggly group of people, isolated from within and from without.


  1. there is so much in this post Sue
    in your work-day-world you probably get to see this more literally than many, but we've all experienced bureaucratic lunacy

    teaches us to fear standing in our own power

  2. Love needs no certificate, but fear always does. Great writing Sue.

  3. I also love the words Harry picks out. Have you ever read Ricardo Semler's book Maverick? It's about the company he runs in Brazil - Semco - in which employees set their own salaries, employ their own bosses, agree their own hours and all kinds of things that conventional management teaching said would never work. On the strength of these techniques Semler took his company from employing a few hundred to 3000 people, and it went from around 56th to 4th most successful company in Brazil. Staff turnover is less than 1%!

  4. Kel - we feel bureacratic lunacy all the time, don't we. A frustration, though some would say inevitable. I wonder if it's simply apathy that breeds over-bureaucracy? Sort of like candida overgrowth if you eat too much sugar :)

    Harry - that's a jolly good summation :)

    Tess - ooh, I love a book recco. The wonders of the internet mean that in the space of 20 clicks I could ascertain my library had no copy, but Better World Books did. Hurrah. Sounds amazing.

    Amazing how things could be, isn't it? Breath-taking when you think about it.


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