Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Positive Attitude" makes me Mad

Greetings, Citizens.

Today I want to talk to you about my Job Search, which is largely responsible for my repeated delays and cancellations over the last few weeks.

Now, Job Searching is depressing - everyone knows it - but that's not actually what I'm here to talk about today. I mean sure, it would be great if there were a less depressing way to do it than sending out 100 applications letters, hearing nothing from 95 of them, and hearing "no" from the other five after making time in your day to interview with them, but it's not really what I want to focus on. I want to focus on what to me is one of the most enraging parts of the Job Search process: Positive Attitude.

Virtually every single job posting you see, ANYWHERE, asks you to have a Positive Attitude, rendering the request redundant to begin with, so I'm already frustrated. But moving on: what is a positive attitude? Well, no one really seems to be able to agree on it, so now we're not only using a ubiquitous word, but also a meaningless one. Great. Still, I'm getting the subtle impression that my cynicism here is not falling under anyone's definition of "positive attitude," so now I feel ostracized for being skeptical about the completely arbitrary word choices of my company.

Basically, what "Positive Attitude" seems to mean is that you will do exactly what they tell you without thinking or complaining about ANYTHING, ever. Unless they ask you to think about it, of course.

Well, okay, this isn't terribly surprising; most jobs are like this, we know that, we begrudgingly accept it, and we go to work every day because we have to. Man, this really IS depressing, unless you're lucky enough to already think exactly like the company that hired you. But ultimately it's not really revolutionary enough to be discussed on The Weekly Madness; so why am I talking about it? I'm working up to something here - the grand daddy of all "positive attitude" schemes I've ever run into.

First point: if a company doesn't give you their name - or the name is something generic like "Integrity Enterprises" (randomly generated example) that yields several conflicting results when googled - do not interview with them. It is a scam. Even if it isn't a complete scam, it's probably a waste of your time in one way or another; let me tell you a little about my recent experience with such an interview, and why it made me so Mad.

I'm going to skip over the bulk of the agonizing of this interview, which was in an un-reschedulable group setting, filled with hyperactive self-proclaimed caffeine addicts (No, really?) that cussed and shouted and "didn't want to be the bad guy" and kept trying to get us all to leave by saying "some of you aren't going to make it, and you should just walk out right now - not to mention that the whole presentation was bookended with The Zohan, that Adam Sandler flick about an Israeli super-soldier becoming a hair dresser. This was to drive home that they "are not corporate America;" no, they like to have fun.

Don't get me wrong, I like to have fun too. But I don't really think an interview is the time to be having "fun," especially not when it's in the passive form of a movie screening. Really makes it seem to me like they're trying to make you forget what happened in the middle of the presentation by putting something ridiculous on either end. i.e, brainwashing us. But whatever - I do remember the middle of the presentation, as I practically stormed out when we got to it.

This was one of the MANY segments in our 2.5 hour group interview about how important it is to have a Positive Attitude. Now, I can handle your generic "positive attitude" where you are able to come into work and put a good face on it, especially for the customers, but are allowed to complain about things that suck on occasion. I mean, most companies, when they talk about "positive attitude," seem to mean that they just want to make sure they are hiring someone who can come in and do the work, even if they didn't have a great day/morning/whatever. Well, this is problematic; it definitely discriminates against people with profound depression; but from a purely business standpoint, it kinda makes sense. You want to hire someone who can work efficiently on a day-to-day basis.

My point being, I and many other Mad folk can handle this, more or less; especially if we're lucky enough to get a boss or coworkers that like to complain along with us on occasion. But that is not the kind of "Positive Attitude" this job wanted. What this job wanted was stated in big bold letters: "If you don't focus on any of the bad stuff, then nothing bad ever happens!" I'm basically quoting here. This job is encouraging people not only to never speak of anything unpleasant at work, but to never even THINK about unpleasant things; moreover, they go so far as to demonize those who do as lazy, selfish, and unmotivated. Anyone who thinks about anything negative has a "bad attitude" and is not welcome.

It's interesting to hear this kind of talk from people who are constantly shouting at us (trying to "Git Excited!"), and constantly talking down to the "hypothetical" members of the audience who "weren't going to cut it," and insulting anyone who had a different approach to "attitude" than them. The speaker went so far as to liken a person's description of their weekend, which was full of trials, to "Bullshit, bullshit, bla bla bullshit." This person also went so far as to suggest that everyone has been through roughly the same amount of crap and so no one has a right to talk about theirs as being worth particular notice. She cited her divorce while being laid off as an example; truly, a tough situation, but not by any means the worst you could expect to encounter in the work environment. The lack of sympathy is absolutely astounding.

So, this woman who is talking to us about positive attitudes is an overly excited, overly judgmental, extremely callous-seeming person, whose supposed three children I find myself praying for their deliverance. My point being, her own attitude does not seem to be "good" at all - it is merely high-energy and completely conformist and without sympathy. But she gets to hype it up as "Positive," all other attitudes as "bad," and force an entire room of people to agree with her because we are all desperate for a job.

This is a problem. This is actively programming people to become a part of a cultural system that represses and oppresses even the most basic expression of feeling and analysis. I feel like even Psychiatry would generally hold that it is usually dangerous for a person to never even THINK about what has troubled them; and most psychologists would definitely uphold this point. The fact of the matter is that misery and suffering are part of the Sapient existence, and if we don't actively work to integrate those experiences into our beings, they linger and lurk and fester and turn into very ugly personalities.

Hmm, kind of like the person who was giving the presentation, it seems. To illustrate exactly what I'm talking about in a non-Mad context, I will tell you that this job was to be a manager of a fragrance wholesaler, and we were all asked about our favorite cologne/perfume. I told her that I don't wear any because it is bad for my throat as a performer, which is true: airborne scented oils in high concentrations are damaging to throat, and every little bit matters when you need to project to the rooftops. Her response to this was basically to make fun of me and then move on.

How is this a positive attitude? It sounds more like being a bully. Because, guess what, that's what she is. Why? Because she has zero sympathy anywhere in her body, because she consciously and willfully squelches all "negative" feelings in her until she is nothing but a whirling dynamo of action, caffeine, and thinly veiled hatred.

These people are so fake, caffeine basically is their personality, but they talk about how they love working at this job because they get to be "who they are," and if you like getting to be exactly who you are then you'll love it to. Except I'm not fake, I'm real, and that means that I have shit in my life that I might want to discuss with my coworkers on occasion, as I'm sure they want to discuss with me; it's called "Kvetching" in Yiddish, and it is a cultural concept of bonding over the act of shared contempt. And you know what? Everyone does it. For these people they probably do it more often over the most recent celebrity scandal, safely transplanting it out of their own lives, while also removing any shred of substance from the act. Fine, I don't want to Kvetch about Usher anyway.

I was surprised to hear back from this job after the interview that I had passed. I thought, surely my hatred for them most have been rolling off of me in waves. But apparently you can't detect such things when you have a "Positive Attitude." So I told them I wasn't interested because I like to be negative, it makes things more real, and finally got a pause out of their hyperactive chipmunk on crack routine. Don't think they'd ever heard THAT one before.

See the thing is, I can work in an environment where I have to pretend to be in a better mood than I am, but not an environment where I am never allowed to think a negative thought about anything of substance. Not only would this kill me to try, but I simply wouldn't last; I would crack in front of them and get canned in the middle of the training program, wasting tremendous amounts of time and effort for naught. But even if I could get through that, it really would be emotionally toxic to do so. And this is really the heart of what I'm getting at here: This monolithic "Positive Attitude" construct is BAD for people. Patently. It isn't just repressive to Mad culture, it actively cultivates very unhealthy cognitive and emotional patterns in everyone it touches, Mad or not. For the supremely chill it will probably hit them less hard, as they have the emotional privilege of not feeling as upset about things, but it will still stunt their emotional growth.

I'm not saying the workplace needs to be a place where we can process our deepest emotions. But we at least should be able to blow off some steam; otherwise we're just lying to each other the whole time. Which only makes it harder to feel okay about blowing off steam in any other context. It's hard enough as it is, "Positive Attitude" doesn't need to make it any worse.

Sound off if you're feeling me on this, Mad Ones.


1 comment:

  1. Wonderful commentary! I couldn't agree more. The "positive attitude" has helped to render the entire US population oblivious to all the high crimes perpetrated by the powers that be. While the Federal Reserve System, the Trilateralists destroy the West, the "find-something-cheerful-don't-be-so-negative" crowd leans back in complete serenity.