Thursday, January 31, 2008

"...Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

So I've been thinking about this blog post all week and I decided that there are so many norms we all follow that are so similar, that I'm going to sum up my thoughts about norms by telling everyone a horrible story.

(I would like to preface this all by saying that I really do think norms are useful and are an integral part of civil society. There was a reason why people were appalled when some guy on the bus spit chewing tobacco on my new suede Stuart Weitzman boots a few months ago -- It was gross, people are increasingly ugly about chewers/smokers anyway, and it's not nice to be a shithead to the girl with the achy feet who takes the last seat on the bus at 4pm in Oakland. Hence why I thought it was perfectly acceptable to take his silk hanky out of the breast pocket of his suit coat and wipe my shoe with it before I threw it back at him. So yeah, norms usually keep situations like that in check. As well they should. No one likes situations like that because both he and I ended up being out of line.)

Now, my story:

In December, the Post-Gazette reported on UPMC's decision to donate $100 million dollars to the Pittsburgh Promise which will give scholarships to Pittsburgh Public School high school students to help them afford college (UPMC Gives Huge Grant for Tuitions.) As an employee of UPMC, I gotta say I was really unhappy about this donation. I am the product of public schools so my beef is not with Pittsburgh Promise itself, but rather UPMC's decision to donate so much money to the city so they'd get good publicity while there own employees (ie - me and my officemates and nurses and medical assistants and clerical workers, etc) barely make a living wage and get paltry tuition benefits from a company that is actually a PART of the University of Pittsburgh.

I, in my constant state of aggitation about UPMC anyway, decided I was angry enough to write a letter to the editor.

Annnnnd it got published.

Annnnnnd my boss's boss called me into his office and (excuse my norm violation here) told me: "You fucked up and you need to sit down and shut up if you want to keep your job" and later: "You should consider yourself a very lucky little girl that you're still sitting in your office" when all of this blew over.

The norms at work here are so numerous and so conflicting that it's hard to even address them all. (And let me just say I can't even get INTO the whole "lucky little girl" comment because it would be full of explitives and would add nothing to this conversation.)

First of all, the First Amendment basically tells me that I can say what I want. And I think one of the best ways to exercise your First Amendment rights is to add something to the public discourse about divisive topics. We're expected to be good citizens. And truly good citizens follow their own self-interest by exercising their constiutional rights.

Second, my letter was respectful so I actually followed a norm, there. It was not inflammitory. It was about my personal situation and it did not attack either the division for which I work or other employees. I acted in my own self-interest by voicing my distress about UPMC's actions. Why? Because it's in my self-interest to make a living wage and have tuition benefits. And as an employee at a "non-profit" company that netted a profit of billions of dollars last year, a living wage and good tuition benefits shouldn't be an outlandish expectation.

When my boss's boss called me into his office (which is five feet from my own office) and gave me a verbal lashing, he was following his own set of norms and his own set of interests. His self-interest told him that having an employee who is a complainer might make him look bad. And after all, doctors are supposed to be the most visible employees of UPMC, not secretaries. (Teehee, for one week I was the most visible employee... oh the POWER!)

That being said, sometimes I am a realist and I really can't blame Doc for saying what he said to me. We all look out for our own interests. In this situation, both he and I acted exactly how we wanted to... to hell with the norms that are socially acceptable to our peers.

But I violated the "sit down and shut up and do your job" norm that is at work in nearly every workplace in every corner of our plant. And Doc violated the norm that tells us all it's not nice to use the f-word or put women in their place by calling them little girls.


I'm sure there are ways I can apply this situation to state behavior and make some comments about the regulative and constituative effects of the norms at work in my story, but I'm going to be honest and admit that I'm exhausted from typing all of this and I really just want to sit and watch the Democratic debate (It's an old fashioned Hollywood Debate!) and drink wine.

Kudos to you if you made it to the end of this long diatribe. Turkey sandwiches for you!

P.S. -- For the win: UPMC is getting my letter of resignation on Monday. I survived this totally shit situation and now I'm leaving on my own terms :-) Wanna know why? Send me an email.


Mercedes said...

Rock on for leaving.

Also, in response to your boss being a sexist bastard, I am of the general opinion that we don't make good enough use of the security studies students at GSPIA. They're all training to be spies anyway. Would it hurt them to practice some assassination attempts for extra credit?

Poox2000 said...

Down with UMCP!

But now who will Mr. Doc be lecherous with and tease with his casual, alluring, masculine air and superior espresso? Is Mr. Doc like Mr. Big, but in a less glamourous setting? Does that make you like Carrie? You do have excellent fashion and shoes, and soon to be, eyewear....

And I think it was both brilliant and well within your rights to take Mr. Tobaccy-Chewing Douche Bag's hankie and wipe your shoes off. But you should have informed the bus driver and gotten him arrested. That would be even more amusing.

And I agree that there should be a course in "Assissination of World Leaders: Practice and Theory." It might be useful for my loud neighbours who leave rotten offal in the trashroom on Friday at 5pm when the heating is on at full-blast...

Oh, and I think it might be a violation of blogging norms to reply with questions in answering a self-posed question. The bloggosphere would chastise: "It's not Jeopardy, hon." What d'yinz think?

Becky said...

I'm so glad you're leaving. Congrats!