The most boring job I ever had in the past, wasn’t having to clean out the bacon boiler in a supermarket. That was greasy and gooey, but in the end I saw it clean and sparkling. (Cleaning isn’t a boring job because there’s an end result, even if the thing you’re cleaning will be dirty again tomorrow.) Neither was it cleaning toilets in a factory – for the same reason. In the end, it all comes out sparkling. I took quite a pride in it, really.
No, my most boring job involved attending staff meetings in school. Not all the meetings, of course. Some could be genuinely challenging, effective, stimulating and inspiring. But I’m talking about the other ones. You know the ones I mean. You’ve been there too. It’s an organisation thing.
These were the meetings that had lost all sense of purpose, but continued because although the person leading them had lost touch with his or her audience, they were still determined to see it through, right to the end, although the audience had by now, mentally died. Our creative souls had left the room. We did not exist anymore. The synapses of our brains had slowly gone into a strange kind of half-life, a safe mode by which they were being thankfully prevented from devouring themselves in frustration.
I once wrote some rather good poetry in a meeting like that, but the verse mostly involved my running around with a large axe, screaming. The imagined violence was, unsurprisingly, all directed at the meeting leader, a Local Authority School Improvement Advisor. She was a supposed educational expert on who seemed to think that the best way to fire up her fellow professionals, was by bringing a large wodge of paper documents that were handed out, after which she proceeded to read them out to us, chapter after chapter, but stopping at the end of each section to gracefully ask, ‘Does anyone have any questions?’ No-one did, of course. We were all dead.
We should have killed her, of course, and buried the body somewhere in the school grounds, next to the Ofsted inspectors. No-one would have missed her. And if they had, it would have certainly made for an entertaining court case. Given the chance to explain ourselves, we'd have been acquitted on all counts (justifiable manslaughter) and as popular folk heroes, carried out of the courtroom on peoples' shoulders and paraded through the town as vanguards of the coming revolution.
But why do people run meetings like this? Have they lost touch with any fellow-feeling for their victims? Are they temporal vampires who feed on other peoples’ precious life-blood of hours, minutes and seconds? Do they grow strong on the surging power of our collective frustration and helplessness?
Or is it because these individuals are just too busy to spend precious minutes preparing, asking difficult questions such as ‘What do these people already know?’, 'How can I spur them into greater creativity in the way they do their jobs?’ or even, ‘Am I sure I know more about this stuff than they do?’
Here’s my fantasy, and it doesn’t involve an axe. What would happen if, when this kind of situation arose, that the suffering ones who work in large organisations, were to each have the courage to stand and say....
‘No more. No more. Life is a generous gift, and none of us know how much we have been given. It can be taken away in a heartbeat. Life is good, and this day is still full of possible delight – so let’s stop right here, right Now. We have people to see, things to do, clean unpolluted air to breathe, and you have taken enough of our time. Please feel free to continue without us, if you choose to do so, and we wish you well. But for now- Goodbye.’
And with that, they could all collectively rise from their chairs in the shocked silence – and depart out into the glorious sunshine, run about, and play.