Friday, November 11, 2020

The Thought Police

In the totalitarian world imagined by George Orwell in his book "1984," the Thought Police prevented or punished improper ideas. It wasn't acceptable just to act in the prescribed way, you had to think only acceptable thoughts as well.

Joe Robinson picks up this idea in "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life," his guide to escaping the trap of compulsive working. His Thought Police are armed with a fearsome weapon for bringing people into line – guilt. What's more, they live inside our head, so nothing escapes their notice.

Have you been thinking about slowing down, or moving to a less stressful job? Have you started to believe you should actually take that three-week vacation you've dreamed about for years? Such thoughts are blasphemous to the Thought Police, since they're the bastard children of Big Brother Work Ethic. The minute they notice such thoughts, they'll pile on the guilt to slap you back into line. The only way to placate them is to work even harder.

For leaders, the Thought Police have devised a specially potent form of guilt. It's called "Letting yourself down" and it goes like this:

1. You're a leader, and leaders are supposed to set the highest standards and act as role models for the people they lead.
2. As a leader, you have a privileged position, higher pay and better perks. You should be grateful for this, since plenty of other people probably wish they had your advantages.
3. Sometimes, you'll have to admonish others for failing to meet their obligations. You may have to fire them for laziness or not matching up to the standards you're paid to enforce.
4. If you don't work harder, and put in longer hours, than the people who work for you, how can you criticize or discipline them? It'll prove you're an idle, ungrateful hypocrite who doesn't deserve your position. Even thinking it is almost as bad. People can probably sense you're a fraud and they're whispering behind your back already.

Neat, isn't it? To avoid the fantasy guilt for something you haven't done, you have to resolve never to do it – and still feel guilty because you thought about it.

Of course, you can always fire your Thought Police instead. Don't expect them to go quietly. They're worse than termites at gnawing away in dark corners, but if you stick with the program of refusing to notice the guilt they try to stick you with, you can starve them out.

Guilt is a pointless and worthless feeling, especially fantasy guilt that isn't even based on an action. And work ethic is a bully and a tyrant, if it's allowed to run the show. You don't need it. Work isn't good in itself, whatever people say about the devil and idle hands. Work is simply a means to an end, and only the end has value.

So round up the Thought Police and kick them out. Reason will tell you what's needed to live the life you want to live, and be the type of leader you aspire to be. And reason doesn't need guilt as a weapon.

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