Thursday, September 16, 2004

What were they thinking

Every so often I find myself confonted by a person whose thinking seems so far removed from any reality I know that I just completely fail to grasp them. The only thing more alarming than the fact that they exist is the rapidity with which I encounter them. Usually, when I look for insight into just what in God's name was happening in their heads, I'm limited in my search for answers to the slim number of people I encounter in my daily life. Maybe the miracle of the Internet can deliver enlightenment to me.

The latest such involves someone who, for the sake of discussion, we'll call Marsha*. Marsha worked in the office of an aquaintance of mine, filling the role of office manager on a temporary basis for perhaps 4 weeks. The office was recently relieved of her, and now in her wake an even more fascinating glimpse of Marsha's world has come to light.

Let me make clear, Marsha is not uneducated. She is not, by familiar definitions, a person most others would call stupid. She is not necessarily someone you would call incompetant, though viewed from a distance you might be hard pressed to make that argument. As best as I can define her condition, she is a person whose priorities are completely opaque, and simply cannot be understod through mundane observation.

The incident which prompts this post is the recent discovery of a hidden cache of phone messages she had taken, which she seemingly accumulated over a period of weeks. To glance at these messages is to be instilled with admiration for their professionalism - the sharp, neat script; the complete array of included details; the thoroughly intelligible record of the intended message. In fact, to look over these messages is to look on a pristine collection of examples of what phone messages are intended to be, with the exception of a single detail: not a single one ever made it to it's intended recipient.

And this is the essence of Marsha. Every pedantic detail of the ritual of message-taking was strictly observed - the time of day is precise to the minute, the appropriate salutation is indicated in every message, a means of return contact and any special instructions are included with each one. With that done, the message goes onto a pile behind the petty cash box and the matter is apparently considered settled. The last little item, the thing that most people would consider the whole point of the enterprise of message-taking, is a matter so trivial as to not occupy her attention. This office employs no more than 8 people at any given time, who trip over each other all day long - there's just no explanation for never delivering the messages other than considering delivery an insignificant detail.

And this is the thing that perplexes me. It's interesting enough to write about because it's a phenomenon not limited to Marsha - she is perhaps more of a symptom than a disease. Time and again I encounter people to whom following the ritual is the ultimate priority, while they may seem not to even recognize that there is an intended result of the ritual. What does this signify? Is there that wide a lapse in critical thinking? Is it the CYA mentality of bureaucracy infecting society at large? What is it about the notion of an ultimate goal being irrelevant in the face of a process to reach it that makes me think of Sudan... oh, damn! I forgot all about that article. Coming right up.

* I believe in changing names only to protect the innocent. Her name is Marsha.

1 Comments:

Blogger Jane said...

That's so *Marsha*

11:31 PM  

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