How to be a good employee


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.

11 thoughts on “How to be a good employee

  1. Having read Saunders I’m now wondering if I’d better be doing the world a favour by popping my clogs — I’m clearly supernumary to global needs, a drain on resources, a parasite on the social body. Time to fall off the tree.

    But wait, I’ve promised to accompany the choral society rehearsals, sing a solo part in those choral concerts, write up the minutes for the Friends of the Library, babysit those grandchildren weekend next, coach those kids for their music theory exams…

    Maybe I’ll just postpone that trip to the euthanasia clinic for now.

        1. I once saw a man having a complete meltdown in a railway station in Japan. Not at all what you expect of the Japanese (though some of those films are pretty scary). People were averting their faces and scurrying past.

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