Thursday, May 3, 2012

Machiavellian Choices in the Workplace

It is the birthday of Machiavelli, the man who memorably said, "It is better to be feared than loved."

Is it?  This question may haunt us as teachers, as administrators, as parents.  Most people would say it's best to strike a balance.  But oh, how hard that can be!  We want to be compassionate, but we also want to have a spine.

Once I taught an English Comp class and we had an excerpt from Machiavelli's The Prince, which had that quote.  We had a rollicking discussion about whether or not it was better to be feared than loved, which then led to some great essays.

I have workplaces on the brain for another reason too.  Yesterday I wrote about my plans for a memoir.  I said:  "You may or may not remember that my plan for my memoir is to write a work that weaves together the strands of a quest to live an authentic spiritual life--which you may rightly say has been done to death.  But I want to weave that strand with a strand that explores work and how to live an authentically spiritual life when one must work in an office in a non-spiritual setting."

That last sentence prompted a reader to send me an e-mail asking me to clarify what I meant by a non-spiritual setting.  It's good to remember that language that includes work like "spiritual" and "religious" can lead to great confusion.

What did I mean exactly?  I've always thought that it might be easier to work in a place that nurtured one's spiritual beliefs, in a way that working at a church camp or a religious college would do--at least in an ideal world.  In my non-ideal world of work, I'm not often doing work that will obviously make the world a better place.  I strive to make our school better for our faculty and our students, but my powers are limited.  There's so much more I'd like to do, but I'm constrained by time and budget and space.

I've often thought that pastors and church camp directors and hospice chaplains spend every day knowing that they're making a difference, but of course, that can't be true.  I'm sure that their days involve thinking about building repair, writing countless e-mails that won't be important a week after they write them, dealing with colleagues with all their moods and personalities, and all those other workplace issues that can drain us.

Perhaps Machiavelli focused on the wrong dialectic.  Is it better to be efficient or to create a nurturing environment where we reach consensus?  Is it better to meet the needs of the shareholders/legislators/grants givers or the needs of students/parishioners/clients?  Are we here to please God or our bosses?

Once again, I return to a central issue that my memoir-to-be will address:  how can we best live integrated lives?  Why must we make these draconian choices? 

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Great questions. This sounds like a wonderful focus for a memoir, Kristin.