When did we become so helpless?

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun

from “The Walk”, Rilke (1924)

Blame is everywhere. It is easier to assign blame than take responsibility. And its easier to blame something that is merely a personification than it is a person – there is less likelihood of retribution. The “organisation”, that amorphous, gaseous collection of individuals to which we assign an identity and character (and heaven help us, a culture), takes the most. Rarely accepting that we are a thin sliver of the character we impose, we hold it accountable all the same.

We blame it for our lack of opportunity, when we could create our own by learning something new, volunteering for something different, stepping along the lattice, or stepping outside. We could cast off the shackles we have imagined for ourselves.

We blame it for the perceived lack of meaning in our work, when we are perfectly capable of ascribing meaning to it, or creating it ourselves. An existential position holds that fundamentally only we can create this meaning anyway, that no other being real or imaginary can do so. We could look at our work anew.

We blame it for not making our workplace more engaging, interesting or fun, when we and our colleagues have the possibility of a richer life experience to share, and more social channels at our disposal, than ever before. We could step out of our own shadow.

We blame it for making us fat, sick, sickly, stressed, aching and pained, even though what we eat and drink, how much we exercise, how we move, when we take breaks – are all down to us. They are our choices: we could make better.

Quite when did we become so helpless?

In our complex and socially interwoven world we have never had so much information and ability with which to influence outcomes outside of normal structures, channels or hierarchy – yet we have seemingly succumbed to the ascription of an equal and opposite sense of abandonment.

Unfortunately many within organisations who ought to know better actually serve to reinforce our helplessness, perpetuating the notion that “it”should do more to alleviate our apparently unfortunate condition. We would do so much better to encourage and enable individual and collective self-reliance and responsibility, and instil an ownership of our present and future.

Cassius might today reflect that “the fault dear Brutus lies not in our organisation but in ourselves”.

One thought on “When did we become so helpless?

  1. Absolutely! But I think, as is alluded to in your last paragraph, a lot of the solution still lies within the control of those same “organisations” that have encouraged generations of office workers to behave as unthinking-automatons and now despair that they are staffed largely by unthinking-automatons.

    Organisations (society?) need to try good parenting, perhaps? Parents bring kids up totally dependent, incapable of imagining life without their support. Then good parents have to teach them that all that is unsustainable, to push them gently from the nest, to stand on their own two feet.

    If we want our workforce to take individual responsibility, we need to enable, encourage and reward it, not just despair it’s absence.

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