Daily writing prompt
What principles define how you live?

Sometimes, events and people outside your control have an outsized influence on your life. I don’t just mean in little things but in significant ways regarding how you behave morally and ethically. We’d all hope this would be some inspirational individual or life-reaffirming event leading us to better things and aspirations. But life often puts us in the path of avalanches of pure evil and challenges us to be better despite it.

So, it was with my first job as a practicing anthropologist. I was due to start the day following New Year’s, but I was called in for a meeting with the director on Christmas Eve. The staff that led me to his office seemed never to expect to see me again and appeared mournful. Walking into his office, I was met with a wall of cheap tobacco smoke from the Camel cigarettes he chain-smoked. He wore what must have once been a quality tweed jacket a full size too small and glared at me as though I was an unwanted intrusion on his day rather than a command performance by his request on Christmas Eve. That was the good part of the meeting.

I came to call him Joltin’ Joe; he reminded me of some overstuffed ugly child’s toy. The kind of toy equipped with a pull string for a recorder full not of so witty observations and foul comments. The more Christian of my colleagues referred to him as Mr. Bigwig; once, I was told, he’d been a well-educated, well-spoken professional and a person on the rise. Now, though the system had spat him out, and he was evidence of the truth of that parable that “he who the God’s wish to destroy, they first call promising.”

He was to be my boss for most of the seven and a half years I worked in that position. From him, I learned that to do good and well when working with a destructive administration, you must master the cumbersome art of avoiding them, frustrating them, and going around and behind them. If you want to achieve anything, you must never allow yourself to vegetate, be still, or lose focus. You needed to cut broad swaths and never merely nibble. Of course, I learned from him by not doing as instructed and doing the opposite as often as possible. With help, I found independent pockets of grant money that allowed me to fund projects that made his blood boil. 

How was I so successful in avoiding his axe for all those years? Politics. He was not well-liked, feared perhaps, but not well-liked. I found allies in the city administration who wished him poorly and found that they loved to frustrate him.

At seven and a half years, I found a better job and left. The most important thing I learned from the experience was that it was essential to do right and not yield to evil. I realize now that I was lucky; I found allies and people who wished to frustrate Joltin’ Joe and offered advice. Surprisingly enough I found a compelling guide to do good, by working with a bad person.

Basically, people like Joe are their own worst enemies. Their uncontrolled anger gets in the way of their being genuinely compelling villains. “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” 

14 Replies to “incompetance”

  1. An interesting analysis of the situation, Lou. Congratulations on making it through 7 1/2 years of Hell! Is the illustration carving by you?

    1. The mask is the original mask used in the Creature from the Black Lagoon movie of the 1950’s. A brilliant curator at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem gathered all sort of props from classic horror and sci-fi movies for an incredible exhibit about ten years ago. I wish now that I had taken more photos.

    1. It can seem overwhelming. I was able to make it work only because I found allies. Otherwise it would have been just an overwhelmingly toxic environment. There are way too many Joltin’ Joes out there. they are tolerated even when they hurt organizational goals. People seem to think that they get things done, but all they do is ruin things.

  2. I worked for a congenital liar at one point. He was promoted from another branch over several more qualified individuals (including me) mostly because his very qualified wife was brought to the plant to help initiate a management system she’d helped establish in that other plant.

    He proved how ignorant he was of probability theory and statistical process control, basic tools in quality assurance (our department) at the very elementary level in a report to corporate. Had he made use of two of us in the department who’d passed the American Society for Quality Engineer certification test, that is, had the sense to make use of our knowledge to review and critique his presentation, he wouldn’t have called a series of data not sorted into Pareto chart order, a Pareto chart. Everything else in his report was similarly flawed and inept.

    His whole time as manager was like that. He’d ask us to do things the way he thought they were done, we’d either just do them the way we knew they had to be done or do them both ways if a record had to be kept for future audits. He’d keep the flawed one in his files, with his name attached! Oh yeah: this guy claimed credit for other peoples’ work, a habit that backfired since we gave him work that we knew was bogus! Sad!

    He eventually outlived his wife’s tolerance of lies and alcoholism, was divorced, went to work in another company we hope had competent individuals working like we did to preserve actual quality management. (Oh yeah, he recopied all of a quality manual I wrote before his time, claimed it as his own work, though it was in an obsolete format by then.)

    They kept this fellow as long as they needed his wife. We were all glad when he left because we were tired covering for him and working around his incompetence and lies. He was followed by one of the best bosses I had there, one who actually understood his staff could guide him in areas we were competent in and we could learn from him in his areas of competence, which were many. We made a great team!

      1. The two of us who were most qualified to assume the managerial job were told by the outgoing manager we weren’t in consideration to replace him because we didn’t hang out with the plant managers and we weren’t members of the old boy network. That, of course, made the new guy sound like a brown-nosing loser, which proved to be the case!

      2. The In Crowd; sounds familiar. We had jerks like that at UPS. one guy’s sexual harassment cost the company big money awards, but they kept him on he was a member of the in crowd. The rest of us referred to him as ‘Joey bag of donuts”.

      3. LOL! What saved us where I worked was these special people always had high ambitions that would get them transferred out of this small (9000ish people) town to cities or places with more off-work opportunities. One corporate person commented on how someone said they couldn’t believe we stayed on the job till quitting time. “Well, what else is there to do in Alliance, Nebraska?” (Of course, this is a great area for people with an interest in history of the West, paleontological digs open to people, the Black Hills, and such outdoor activities as fishing, birding, hunting, boating, but what would some narrow-minded, ignorant person who’d never been out of Ohio know? LOL! The work ethic here is, apparently, strong here.)

  3. I worked for that guy. At one point he threw me up against the wall in the office, in front of everyone, students, staff, faculty, and cursed me out for having backed out of a conference at which I was supposed to present something. Why did I back out? I had hip surgery. I didn’t back out at the last minute, either. I backed out months ahead. He said I ruined “his” conference. Before long he had given away my classes and here I am, in Colorful Colorado. Where he is? Might be where I HOPE he is but probably not. 😀

    1. For fun I just looked at his Ratemyprofessor and I had to laugh, “How can I sum him up as a professor? I used 12 point Arial font on my paper, he marked me off for not using 12 point Arial font. Then I went to his office, we printed a piece of paper out in 12 point Arial font, compared and confirmed that I actually did use 12 point font and he says “Sorry, it’s already been graded.” DO NOT TAKE THIS PROFESSOR!” All of the reviews were like this… 🤣

      1. One can only hope that a new Dante will take over development plans in the inferno for some additional circles; one of which should be for – to us a UPS term- dead rats asses- like him.

Comments are closed.