coming out of my shell
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Courage, My Friends!
This morning I woke up thinking about the online accounting system at my old job. Then I read a provocative blog post on Feministe defending a certain Southern sorority’s questionable recruitment video and scolding readers for commenting so ruthlessly about it. I was reminded that courage is needed every single day in every single life, and often for rather mundane issues. However, I know in my heart of hearts that courage alone is not enough.
When I retired the new university accounting system was still new. Maddeningly complicated, the system was designed for central administration’s use.
I worked most of my adult life as a staff member at this large research university, the “business” of which is teaching, research, and public service. A significant number of employees work in the academic units where the teaching, research, and public service actually happens. The central administration (aka, Central) is there to make sure the tools are in place and well maintained to meet those goals.
Central is naturally concerned with the University macrocosm. For them budgeting in aggregate is critical. The staff in the academic “units” are concerned with the microcosm. In academic units budgets are a means to get money into a financial entity (called an “account”) so spending can begin and teaching, research, and public service can happen.
Faculty researchers are creative individuals. Some are the best people in the world at conducting their specific research. They think new thoughts, explore our humanity, analyze social issues, create new materials, isolate genes, cure diseases, and even take us to Mars and beyond. I am not saying they are perfect. Some of them are not nice and a few are not even all that smart; however, when they behave themselves and do good work they are extraordinary!
Financial staff in the “units” need financial data generated quickly and easily so spending can be monitored and federally funded grants and contracts do not go into overdraft. The new system did not give us what we needed.
Anyway, Central just needed to tell the programmers to design a few different reports for the academic units. For a ridiculously long time that did not happen. When we complained, the central accounting people responded defensively. They accused us of being averse to change and stereotyped us as “negative.” The result? A solid majority of users hated the system and lost faith in the University's central accounting office.
Neither side listened to the other and no one changed their mind. This left me scratching my head, once again wondering how you effectively challenge someone’s belief system to effect change? In a nutshell, the courage to speak up is not enough if you cannot get someone to listen.
Personally, I do not always have the good sense to fear those in power. I know some people think I am foolish, or a glutton for punishment, but I always felt it was important as an employee to do a good job, speak the truth, and try and make things better. I am not afraid to interrupt or talk over a man in a suit to make him listen to what I desperately hope is a well-reasoned argument. I learned early on that you have to interrupt people in power or else you will never get a chance to talk. To do that you have to believe you are as important, as smart, and as valuable as anyone else in the room.
I also think it is important to do “the right thing.” However, unless you are comfortable being an ideologue it is hard to figure out exactly what the “right” thing is in any given situation. To figure out what is right you have to be open to the idea of being wrong. Then you have to think critically, leaving comfortable, established belief systems behind. This does not come naturally to human beings. It is hard not to jump on the bandwagon or try not to succumb to group think. Let’s face it, it is hard to be alone.
You have to suspend a natural human desire to be liked, too. That means you cannot cry if someone gets angry with you. You just have to take it on the chin. I am sorry, but you also need to stop caring about being sexually attractive, at least for the duration of your argument. There is a time and a place for everything.
This is a huge stumbling block for some young women. The media would have our vulnerable young girls believe sexual presentation and social approval are the most important things EVER in their whole entire lives. Big sigh. How do we liberate these young women from this great lie?
Which brings me to the post I read this morning on Feministe and the murky connection between that blog post and the University’s online budget system. The post is titled: In which, God help me, I find myself defending the Alpha Phi video. It was written by a fabulous blogger named Caperton.
As I read her defense of those seemingly frivolous young women I thought, “I don’t buy this.” The whole cutsie-cute sorority sister routine bothers me, why was this serious feminist defending them? What was her point? In the final paragraph she laid it on me.
We are not going to change any young girl’s mind by attacking or ridiculing her. What I think Caperton was saying is this: a young sorority girl will be humiliated and angered by hurtful dogmatic criticism. Consequently, she will then be lost to the cause. Plus, she’s still a kid and she is just trying to have fun so give her a break. We were all young and stupid once. Some of these girls might still grow and change if they are not attacked and traumatized by raging and rabid feminists. Ha! You KNOW she’s right!
I was blown away by Caperton’s courage and intellectual fervor. I enjoyed her message, but it was not as important to me as her savvy in presenting it. Alone she stood up within the confines of a righteous but dogmatic political movement and spoke what she thought was the truth. She asked what might be a better way to effect change in those young ladies. That took courage, but it also required critical and, more importantly, strategic thinking.
I still do not like sororities. That is probably not going to change considering who I am and what I value. That was never the point of this or the other blog post, anyway. Still, I wish all young women cared less about how they look and more about how they think.