I believe in sticking it to ‘The Machine’

arnie - boulder, Colorado
Entered on February 27, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
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I believe in sticking it to ‘The Machine’. Counter culture had ‘The Man’ to stick it to. In these hunkering-down times it is hard to find a face to point at, to blame, to get mad at. The Machine doesn’t have a face. It is work, the corporation, the organization, the institution, popular culture, the American dream. But of all these things, I reckon the way The Machine gets to us most, each day, is work.

I believe I can stick it to The Machine by blowing a little humanity into each project I do, into each phone-call I make, e-mail I send, report I write, meeting I attend.

One of my favorite jazz albums is ‘Speak like a child’, by Herbie Hancock. I love how straight-up and simple it is. Anyone can listen to it and really enjoy it. And, if you like, you can spend a little more time listening and you’ll begin to hear how smart it is, how it has texture and depth. Professional-speak is the opposite to this. It is smart and complex and hard to understand if you haven’t learned to speak it. I believe language entrenches us in our roles. It is a barrier to so much…like truly connecting, on a human scale, with people. I believe in speaking people.

In my working life I research what is going on in people’s lives, what ads they like, soda they sip, sport shoes they buy. One day, a long time ago, I was sitting on a small stoop tying the shoe of a preschooler. His name was Sam Loab and I was helping out at the school, as I did each Friday. Sam was wearing a pair of brand new Nike’s. My role in that moment, on that day, shifted from ‘dad-helper’ to ‘market researcher.’ At that time Nike was a good client of mine and I started to ask Sam a bunch of questions about his new shoes. He courteously answered each of my questions until, suddenly, he looked up at me and said…GET A LIFE!, and walked away. Kids are lucky. They can play and they can pretend, but mostly they are themselves. When we get older we play different roles in our everyday lives and this is exactly what keeps us from being ourselves. I know now that the magic in a research project, or meeting, or just about any conversation happens when we let the role we are playing fall away.

I believe I can stick it to The Machine by not acting like a cog. The machine simply can’t handle humanity. I practice a little each day. I start by stopping. I stop playing my role. Then I start being curious. Sharing creativity. Sharing credit. Letting go. Listening. And a funny thing happens, people around me act less like they’re supposed to, and, I guess that’s when the humanity starts to happen.