Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Doing My (Your) Job Is Not Enough

By Christine Clark

A little girl died in Florida. Her twin brother survived even though he was horribly burned by pesticides—chemicals poured on his body, those same chemicals that took her life. The department that oversees childhood abuse and neglect is broken—has been for years—and the people working in that department are broken as well.
“Not my job.” “The workweek ends at 5 p.m. on Friday.” “Overtime is not allowed.” “_________ followed the procedure.”
Does it matter if it is not your job when the job must be done? If it is 5 p.m. on Friday, and someone’s life is in danger, do you clock out and go home? Does the lack of compensation for overtime supersede the necessity of continuing to get an important task done? If the procedure is flawed, do you follow it anyway—even if it means a child will die?
Many jobs are squeezed into cubbyholes of rules and regulations and stacks of bureaucracy ready to fall and crush the strongest, let alone the flawed and the weak. Have those cubbyholes also squeezed out the basic humanity of the people contained and constrained by their dimensions? When is it time to break out of those cubbyholes, and to tear down the partitions that close off compassion?
When do we begin to do a job simply because it must be done? When do we take off our watches and cover the clocks that confine us and roll up our sleeves and keep working, rather than start our vehicles and roll away? When does the time allotted to a life exceed the importance of no compensation allotted for overtime? When do we create our own procedures because the ordained ones have no value or meaning?
When do we stop excusing, and apologizing and rationalizing? When do we stop planning how we will do things better in the future, and do those things now?
There really is no excuse, or apology, or rationale for what happened to those South Florida children. When do we act so that such a travesty never occurs again?

The story that inspired my commentary can be accessed here:

On a level that does not reflect life-or-death decisions, the story has made me look at my own life—the things I put off, the things I refuse to do. I balk at doing some things because “It’s not my job.” I neglect some things because I think “I don’t have time.” I continue to follow certain procedures even when experience has shown me that those procedures are futile. “This way isn’t working, but I will keep at it anyway. Maybe someday it will work.”
Why do I persist in the same path when experience tells me that following the preordained way will make me stumble and fall? Why do I get up every day and keep doing the same things the same way, only to stumble and fall again? In pondering this, I now believe it is a lack of awareness, of mindfulness, of purpose. I do not lightly make a comparison between getting my life done and those obstacles faced by people employed in social services. Nor can I excuse myself in many respects, as I cannot excuse them. However, if I, and they, and you, and she and he begin to explore our actions, no matter how mundane, with a focus on mindfulness, I know that same attention can and will expand to include life-altering situations. That mindfulness can assist each of us in making decisions and taking action to avoid tragedy in all aspects of our lives.
Today, I will more carefully explore the ways in which I can be more mindful. In what ways can you and will you explore being more mindful?

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