Friday, September 20, 2002

Domesticated cows

One thing I learnt from my years of Sociology and Geography at University is that you can’t domesticate cows. It wasn’t part of the course, but something that was told to us by our physical geography lecturer on one field trip. I don’t mean that you can’t get them to do the washing up, because that’s silly. What I mean is that you can’t have cows as pets. Their size not withstanding, a domesticated cow will become surly, big-headed, and ultimately destructive.

At work the other day I heard someone crying because a customer had yelled down the phone at her. It got me thinking, what is the process by which people feel it is right and acceptable to yell down the phone at someone just because they are in a working environment? Someone somewhere along the line decreed that this was acceptable, and it probably wasn’t their parents.

Simon expounds a convincing theory whereby your career begins to plateau around your early 30’s when you are no longer the bright star of the corporation, but a competent if uneventful employee. This leads to a degree of anomie, and forces you to fulfil your ambitions through other activities; i.e. children, marriage etc.

I would add to the list the concept of ‘Corporate Mothering’. In your thirties your experience and confidence no longer provides pay rises and promotions, so you look for a channel where your outputs can be rewarded. Children and marriage will take you so far, but it is work values you the least but occupies your time the most. At work, for many, the channel to continued vicarious success is a protégé. They willingly follow you, because they need a leg up the career ladder. You instil your values and beliefs into this person, you take great joy in their progress, and lay their successes down to your mentoring. Inevitably you also promote your prejudices and weaknesses whilst ignoring theirs, after all you are creating someone in your image you’re unlikely to be objective enough to withhold your more erratic traits whilst pushing all your best practice. In becoming a Corporate Mother, you are corporatising your protégé, instilling an arrogance which overstates their worth. When they are finally let off the lead they have been socialised to assume they are better than anyone else, providing them with licence to be rude and aggressive if they don’t get their own way.

Like the domesticated cow the corporatised protégé should be unacceptable because it’s obstructive and arrogant, yet it is allowed to continue its unpleasantness to all concerned.


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