Gert, if she were still in the workforce, would be inspired to even greater efforts for her employers after reading George Saunders’ story Pastoralia. The narrator has just responded reluctantly to his supervisor’s pressure to provide some information that will allow them to sack his workmate, Janet:
Good for you. Feel no guilt. Are you Janet? Is Janet you? I think not. I think that you are you and she is she. You guys are not the same entity. You are distinct. Is her kid your kid? Is your kid her kid? No, her kid is her kid and your kid is your kid. Have you guilt? About what you have done? Please do not. Please have pride. What I suggest? Think of you and Janet as branches on a tree. While it’s true that a branch sometimes needs to be hacked off and come floating down, so what, it is only one branch, it does not kill the tree, and sometimes one branch must die so that the others may live. And anyway, it only looks like death, because you are falsely looking at this through the lens of an individual limb or branch when in fact you should be thinking in terms of what is the maximum good for the overall organisation, our tree. When we chop one branch, we all become stronger! And that branch on the ground, looking up, has the pleasure of knowing that he or she made the tree better, which I hope Janet will do. Although knowing her? With her crappy attitude? Probably she will lie on the ground wailing and gnashing her leaves while saying swear words up at us. But who cares! She is gone. She is a goner. And we have you to thank. So thanks! This is the way organizations grow and thrive via small courageous contributions by cooperative selfless helpers, who are able to do that hardest of things, put aside the purely personal aspect in order to see the big picture.
Pastoralia, p. 59 in George Saunders’ marvellous collection of the same name. This was published back in 2000, but I like it better than more recent work of his.
“This stuff is gold dust,” says the blurb and it ain’t wrong. Here’s another excerpt, from Sea Oak:
we watch ‘The Worst That Could Happen’, a half-hour of computer simulations of tragedies that have never actually occurred but theoretically could. A kid gets hit by a train and flies into a zoo, where he’s eaten by wolves. A man cuts his hand off chopping wood and while wandering around screaming for help is picked up by a tornado and dropped on a preschool during recess and lands on a pregnant teacher.
This is what you watch to distract you when you live from paycheck to paycheck in a dingy apartment in a violent neighbourhood. As if life didn’t contain plenty of tragedies happening all the time to people just like you.