Friday, September 30, 2011

Mr. and Mrs. Softie

Yesterday our president was wondering why America has gone soft and has lost its competitive edge. He doesn’t have to look too far for the answer.

Jonah Goldberg grasped the irony and the complete absence of self-awareness: “Seriously, in 2008 we elected a community organizer, state senator, college instructor first term senator over a guy who spent five years in a Vietnamese prison.”

In 2008 it was hard vs. soft, and soft won. With our votes we abandoned the will to compete and embraced the will to feel.

A nation that is awash in empathy cannot be very competitive. A nation that defines its mission in terms of distributing wealth to those who are in need cannot be tough enough to nudge the less fortunate to get to work.

A softness ethic promotes weak character. Once a nation has been afflicted with weak character, it will not be able to find the grit, perseverance, or tenacity to dig itself out of the ditch.

It's not surprising that the age of Obama has turned us into a nation of softies. And there’s nothing surprising about the fact that our community-organizer-in chief does not have a clue about how his leadership has led us down this dead end.

Goldberg points out that none less than Michelle Obama drew up the road map that would lead us to the soft side.

Famously, she once declared: “We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do…. Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.”

Ah yes, the helping industries. The ones that are allow you to mother people. The ones you might excel in if you lack a competitive edge.

Michelle Obama has contempt for the corporate world, the world where people make money. She prefers the helping industries where, in her worldview, people exercise their God-given right to spend the money other people make.

People who want to help are morally superior to those who just want to make money, so the soft crowd has an inalienable right to decide how it’s spent. 

Yesterday, we got a glimpse of what happens when someone who has suffered these lessons finds himself, by necessity, in the corporate world. We see what happens when a man who learned the lessons of anti-corporatism gets a corporate job. And we see what happens when a man with weak character finds himself in a world that requires strength of character.

The evidence comes to us from the DearPrudence column at Slate.

Here is the man’s letter: “Five years ago I went from working for myself to working for a Fortune 500 company. I acted like a spoiled child and did everything I could to push the envelope. I wore ripped jeans or other inappropriate clothing, wrote just-short-of-actionable comments in emails, treated working hours as flexible, and saw office rules as a challenge. I'm amazed I still have a job. However, this year I took a long look in the mirror and changed my behavior—having a baby on the way helped. For the past six months I’ve been doing everything I can think of to be the employee I know my colleagues want me to be, and nobody recognizes it. The only feedback I get is humorous: “Like this is going to last!” Is there anything I should do that will make people realize that I've changed? Or should I just go somewhere else if I want different treatment?”

Five years of behaving like a boorish lout and he still has a job. I would not give too much for his career prospects or for his chances at garnering a promotion, but if this man still has a job the Fortune 500 company must be run by a band of saints. Unless, of course, they are just afraid of lawsuits.

Following the Obama mantra this man rejects corporate culture. He does not understand that  it is designed to establish and maintain a competitive edge. In truth, he is doing everything in his power to subvert the culture, to render it more inefficient and more ineffective.

His company seems willing to tolerate his antics, but reality does not forgive and forget easily. When you have made a public spectacle of your weak character, you create a reputation for yourself. It takes more than a few months of good behavior to change your reputation. 

The estimable Emily Yoffee has some excellent, sobering advice:  “For five years you’ve been figuratively bashing your co-workers over the head, and now you expect some kind of reward because you’ve stopped for the past six months. Their skepticism about you is well-earned, and it’s going to take quite a while to gain their trust. It would be helpful to stop thinking you deserve a cake for simply starting to act like a normal employee. You might consider addressing your new attitude with a low-key apology tour. When you volunteer to stay late, you can add: ‘I know how many times the rest of you have had to put in long hours. It’s my turn.’ When someone thanks you for a helpful response, you can say: ‘I appreciate that. I’ve discovered life’s better when I don’t sound like a jerk.’ When they comment on your new attire, you can say, ‘I’ve decided to dress for work, not band rehearsal.’ If the lack of appreciation for being like everyone else makes you want to switch jobs, then go ahead. But just think about who your potential employers are going to call as references.”

I agree wholeheartedly. The moral of the story is clear: you are responsible for your reputation. Once you establish that you are soft and weak, it is devilishly difficult to move to the hard side.

Weak character involves a lack of self-control. People with weak character let it all hang out. They feel obligated to let the world know how they feel, regardless of the consequences.

People with weak character indulge in infantile, petulant, insolent behavior in the workplace. Many of them do not even have the presence of mind to accept, as this man does, that it is wrong to do so.

Thinking through Yoffe’s response, I believe that it would be appropriate for our president, to replace his whining about the nation’s softness with a new apology tour.

Instead of talking down the country, thus softening its character, Obama can now apologize for apologizing for America. And he can help restore America’s strength of character by declaring that he is not going to run for a second term.


The Ghost said...

5 years as a slacker and this guy expects that 6 months of good behavior balances the scale ?
Yet another example of a soft mind ...

The Ghost said...

In Michelle Obama's case she is a world class con woman ... she never left the corporate world ... she jumped straight from a for profit law firm to a for profit hospital and wants to act like she sacrificed something ...

David Foster said...

The idea that there is something morally superior about working for a "nonprofit" or for government, needs to be challenged at every opportunity.

Writing research papers for a think-tank or a government agency about "challenges of world food production in 2025 and beyond" does not make you a better human being than the farmer who grows the food, the railroad and trucking workers and executives who get it to market, and the supermarket people who distribute it.

It should also be noted that working for a "nonprofit" is often *very* profitable at an individual level. Indeed, the status of being "nonprofit" sometimes seems to mean mainly that there are no pesky shareholders to share the loot with!