Episode 46

normalizing discomfort

There are things we need to normalize- things like water conservation, and the discomfort of growth; and there are things we need to keep from normalizing, or even de-normalize, such as drought, or the slow drains on our (and our employees) patience and energy when we have to work within settings and systems that just don't work they way they should. Sometimes running an ethical business is as simple as saying 'yes' to fixing what's broken.

Also, adjustable standing desks, and the unbridled joy of school children at play.

Transcript

Leela Sinha 0:02

You know, someone said something recently to me. I don't remember where. About the fact that- oh, it was tiktok, of course it was- about the fact that we are living in a plague. Which makes me think about the fact that we are living in a plague in the way that people during the Black Plague must have lived in a plague. Much the same way where we still have to get up, we still have to eat, we still have to go to sleep, and yet there's a plague. And we're living in it, we're just living in it at this point.

We don't know when or how it will come to some kind of close. We don't know how it is affecting our brains or our communities. We don't know what it is doing to the development of our society at large. We don't know what this will do in fifty years, in a hundred. All we know is that right now, we are out of milk. And getting milk means going to the store and going to the store means engaging the fact that we are living in a plague and getting used to it. Right?

We're getting used to the fact that we're living in a plague, we're getting used to the discomfort. And for me, this is counterbalanced, counterposed against joy. Right? This, this desperate need for unbridled joy. I listen to schoolchildren scream and run in the school yard near my house. Somehow the acoustics bring their voices nearly right to my door nearly into my office, they are just quiet enough not to get picked up on the microphone when I record. But sometimes, if I'm quiet at the wrong moment, or at the right moment, you can hear them.

And then there's the bell that rings to tell them to come and go from the playground, which balances out the other bell that rings in the clock tower and the carillon that rings nearby. It is not unusual for me to not need to look at a clock or a watch because I just know that the top of the hour has come and that's enough information. But anyway, so there's this joy, right? There's this unbridled joy, there's the riot of color that's coming even in California as fall comes on not like New England, but it's still there.

It's a variation in the consistency of the green. And the ground is a little more wet and the grass is a little more soft, less crunchy underfoot, if I leave the building to go lie on the grass in front of the building for a minute. For a while. To be with the sun. To be in the world in a different way than inside inside inside. On the days when I can't get out to walk. On the days when I don't get out to walk. On the days when the weight of everything pressing down on my chest is so much that I can't even get out of bed. And yet here we are.

And there's a plague and and we're just living through it. We are we are normalizing what we have to normalize. Human brains are so good at that. We're so good at that. Normalizing the unthinkable because we can't not think it anymore. Just in my adult lifetime, we have normalized security theater in our airports. We have normalized school shootings without sufficient security. We have normalized mass shootings in general. And we have normalized the plague. We have also normalized smartphones. We have also normalized cleaner air. We have also normalized such a high seal population that we are now having to navigate the spaces where humans and sharks did not formerly interact. Because the sharks aren't actually after humans as food. They're after seals. And when I was a kid, we didn't have enough seals to attract the sharks.

We are normalizing recycling. We are trying to normalize water conservation. We are definitely normalizing drought. We have normalized electric cars. So much becomes normal so easily. we've normalized video conferencing just in the last few years. We've even begun to understand that sometimes, a video meeting is better for certain tasks, for certain things, for certain ways of doing things- video meetings are actually superior to in-person meetings. For accessibility video meetings are almost always superior to in-person meetings.

But also, for certain kinds of breakouts, if you really want the group to return on time, video meetings are superior. If you really want captions, and you can't afford an interpreter or captioner, video meetings are superior. There are so many ways that so much has become so usual. I moved to the neighborhood where I now live during the pandemic. And I flipped from one set of norms to another. Now I have normalized walking for my groceries, because various things about this neighborhood make that possible in ways that were not possible in my last neighborhood.

The question is, what do we have to normalize? And what shall we choose to normalize? And what are we going to choose to not normalize, actively resist normalizing? Because our brains just want us to make everything normal so that we don't have to think about it. And that's a survival strategy. It's a really common survival strategy. And sometimes it's needed. And sometimes it is the thing that leads to our doom. When I was growing up, violence against LGBTQIA folx was normal. Then for a minute, it wasn't normal. We are normalizing it again, even from inside the queer community. Let's not. Let's not.

Clear skies were normalized. Now we are fighting not to gut the EPA. Let's not re-normalize pollution. Let's not. Homelessness, houselessness. Normalized. Absolutely normalized where I live. In a way that deeply disappoints me. Let's not. But in order to not normalize things, outside us, around us, in our less immediate environment, we have to begin by not normalizing things that are close in, that are immediate to us. A number of my coaching friends talk about this as "what are you tolerating?" Which is one way to frame it.

But I would also ask what that you do not think you have control over- and you may not- what is there in your immediate world that you also don't want to normalize or that you want to actively denormalize that has become normalized because of dehumanization, or stress or whatever, and you want to pull it back out of the barrel so that you notice it, you trip over it every single time, so that instead of just letting it become part of the landscape, you are motivated to do something about it.

This is a big deal for me, because, well, there are a lot of big reasons why this is a big deal for me. But on a smaller scale. This is a big deal for me, because if I plug the hole with a makeshift answer, I will makeshift my way through the next 10 years with my makeshift solution. Because it's what I've got.

Finding the motivation to change something that's just a little bit annoying, is almost impossible. Finding the motivation to change something that is radically not working is much easier. This is why I ordered exactly the standing desk I wanted. I think two years ago now. And it has been various kinds of backordered ever since then, and I am still waiting for it. And I have not in the meantime bought a sitting height desk. As I speak, I am sitting pulled up to a nightstand with a box on top of that with a vent plate underneath my computer. That's what I'm recording at, because I'm waiting for the perfect desk.

Now you might say that I'm being unreasonable. And you might not understand why I'm making this choice. But this is what intensiveness is. It doesn't really matter if I have a quote unquote "real desk" or if I have this nightstand unless I have the desk that will really do the thing I need it to do, which is adjust from standing height to floor sitting height. And there's only one company out there that makes a desk that's that radically adjustable. And so I'm waiting.

Sometimes tripping over the big thing is better than buying a makeshift solution. Because if I bought the makeshift solution, then A, I would be like, No, this is probably fine, I can probably just cancel that other order, and then I would be sad about it. But also, I would have every single ergonomic problem that I think I would have with a desk that didn't do the adjustment that I need it to do. So I would not have actually solved my problem, I would just be trying to pretend that it didn't exist by shoving it under the rug, which is a great way for me to trip over and over and over again.

How does this have to do with ethical workplaces? Do you know how much people will put up with and not even notice they're putting up with it? Or convince themselves that it's okay or that it's normal, speaking of things we have normalized, to have things that don't work right for you in your workplace, and to just have to deal with it to not be able to adjust it to not be able to fix it? And do you know how many little tiny bites that takes out of people's time and attention and energy and patience? Over and over and over again.

It's not just a generic, weird, amorphous, you know, well, unhappy employees are bad for the company somehow. No, no, no, no, this is specific. And having an ethical company means caring for the people in that company means that when somebody has a problem, you want them to come to you, and tell you that the system's not working for them, tell you why the system's not working. And see if there's a way to adjust it. Maybe you want them to propose it, maybe you want to propose it, it doesn't matter how the problem gets solved. If the problem gets solved, they will feel cared for, they will feel important, they will feel nourished and nurtured. They will feel safe.

And when those things happen in the workplace, then the person's whole brain can work on the work problem that they're there to solve. They can work on the task that they're there to complete, they can be fully present to what they need to do. Or at least as fully present as you can make them. You can't change the fact that they're having problems at home, you can't change the fact that their kid is sick or that their mother in law's suddenly going to have to go into a care facility and they don't know what they're going to do about it. You can't change the fact that their roof sprang a leak, you can't change that directly.

You can make all of it easier by paying them well enough that they can afford to throw some money and some experts at the problems. But the other thing you can do is make sure that when they come into work, it just works. And if it's not working, they know what to do about it. Do not normalize discomfort in your workplace In that way.

The kinds of discomfort we should be normalizing are the kinds of discomfort that come with personal growth, that come with figuring out how to incorporate anti-racist language into a formerly unfiltered space.

The kinds of discomfort that we should be normalizing are the kinds of discomfort where one of us goes out of the way a little bit to support the other one in getting through this hard thing. And then that's reciprocated sometime later, or maybe by someone else that we co-support and that we inter-regulate. That's what we're aiming for in the workplace.

We are not aiming for someone wasting the energy that they could spend doing that being pissed off because they can't get the right pen because the company won't order it. Being frustrated because they have to operate with the wrong software, with the clunky software. Like that is not a good place to spend that energy. It's just simply not. So if someone tells you something's not working- and I hope they're telling you- if they're not, figure out how to be inviting. Figure out how to be welcoming, figure out how you can make a space where people know that you want their needs to be met for real, not just for good optics. And then when they tell you, actually care about fixing it, that's all you have to do.

Sometimes ethical business is so easy. It's so easy. And very often ethical business is just about saying yes. Thanks for tuning in.

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Leela Sinha