Notes From My Journal:
This Actually Happened
Delray Beach, FL– We were talking about sexual harassment. Sally and Leslie and I. Sally said, “At my age, I could use a bit of it now and then. Leslie laughed, agreeing. “I’m way short on that kind of attention,” I admitted.
“Bernie used to harass me,” Leslie said seriously. “He used to come up behind me and rub my shoulders as I worked.” Bernie was her boss. And my partner.
“He did that to me too,” I said. “I took it as a fatherly thing. He did it to lots of people, including his kids.”
“It felt creepy,” Leslie said.
So there you have it. I have no doubt that it felt creepy to Leslie. I’m sure she was subject to various levels of sexual harassment during the years she worked for us. This was 30 years ago.
But I don’t believe Bernie was sexually harassing her. I believe he was doing to her what he was doing to me. I believe he saw it as an avuncular gesture, one of warmth.
I could be wrong. He could have had different motives depending on whose shoulders he was rubbing. I just don’t believe that.
Many would say that what he meant doesn’t matter. It’s how she felt that counts. And it does count. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.
These days, I wouldn’t think of rubbing a woman’s shoulders – any woman’s except K’s. But I’d have no compunctions about doing the same thing to a man. And what if he felt it was creepy?
Leslie never said anything to Bernie. And that was probably at least in part because he was her boss and, as her boss, had a certain “power” over her. But that power didn’t extend to prohibiting her speech. Though it made it more difficult. More risky.
Bernie is gone now so I can’t ask him about it. Neither can Leslie. We will never know. Leslie will carry that creepy memory with her. And I will live with my doubt.
From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket
In his book In Pursuit of Elegance, Matthew E. May tells a story about Drachten, a Dutch village that had a serious problem with traffic at its main intersection. The village hired an expert, Hans Monderman, to help them reduce congestion and accidents.
The conventional way to do this is to implement various measures to get cars to slow down. Unfortunately, such measures – including stoplights, radar-controlled equipment, and a beefed-up police force – are expensive. Since Drachten had a small budget, Monderman was forced to do something different.
He realized that this was an opportunity for him to test a theory he had been developing about human behavior: that the more controls you impose on people, the less self-control they are likely to exhibit. In his words, “Treat people like zombies and they’ll behave like zombies. But treat them as intelligent, and they’ll respond intelligently.”
So instead of increasing traffic controls in the middle of town, he reduced them to a startling degree. Instead of adding regulations, he suggested repealing most of them. No speed bumps, no speed limits, no signs, no mandates about right of way.
What happened was not the chaos that many had predicted. To the surprise of nearly everyone, the solution worked. With no rules to guide them, drivers approaching the intersection were very aware of each other. They slowed down and moved cautiously, doing their best to get through the intersection safely. Traffic flowed naturally. There was no congestion, even at rush hour. And no long delays for anyone. No waiting at a red light when there was no one else on the road.
As May points out in his book, what Monderman had done was replace traffic code with social code.
To demonstrate how safe his innovative intersection design was, Monderman liked to stand at the curb, talking to reporters – and, while talking, walk backward into traffic.
May sees this experiment as an example of his thesis: that sometimes the best solutions are simple ones that involve doing less, not more. He calls these solutions elegant, but you might just as well call them relaxed.
The typical traffic planner, fearful of creating a system with “flaws,” designs one that regulates against every conceivable mishap. But no sooner is the system put into place then some unanticipated accident occurs. The planner’s response? Add another regulation.
This is the thought process of most people. Chaos is risky. Chaos is dangerous. The only way to reduce chaos (and thus reduce risk and danger) is to create regulations. And if those regulations fail to avert disaster, create more regulations and/or enforce them with severer penalties.
We do this with almost every aspect of our lives – from traffic to medicine to work safety to food to how we treat our family and our neighbors. The list does not end because the potential for chaos does not end.
This fear of chaos resides in the self-conscious mind. And the conventional solutions (laws and regulations) come from the self-conscious mind. They sometimes work, but sometimes fail terribly. However, since the self-conscious mind cannot relax, it has no other way to respond.
To put it differently, the primary purpose of the self-conscious mind is to preserve itself. Chaos is frightening because the self-conscious mind cannot exist in it. So it is natural for the self-conscious mind to regulate chaos out of existence. To do otherwise would be to accept the inevitability of death.
The relaxed mind accepts death as inevitable and so it can imagine solutions that are simpler and unforced. It can imagine life continuing with less regulation. And, in fact, it does.
One of the advantages of cultivating a relaxed consciousness is that the fear of chaos subsides. We are then able to let go of the idea that force and regulation is the only way to resolve a problem. And more often than not, we find that the problem then resolves itself.
* In this series of essays, which hopes to become a book, I’m exploring an idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time — that our knowledge of the universe and our experience of living can be understood by the metaphor of pulsation – of contraction and relaxation – and that such an understanding might helpful in succeeding in life and accepting death.
Today’s Word: roseate (adjective) Roseate (ROH-zee-it) is rose-colored, resembling a rose. It can also mean overly optimistic. As used by Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Speak not too well of one who scarce will know himself transfigured in its roseate glow.”
Did You Know?: A rabbit’s predator can literally scare it to death.
Worth Quoting: “Success covers a multitude of blunders, and the want of it hides the greatest gallantry and good conduct.” – Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson
Read This… James Altucher is a very impressive guy. But two things impress me most: his ability to absorb not just knowledge but wisdom – fast. And his relentless drive to improve his life.
A Letter I Would Send to My Teenage Self