Let’s be friends
There are lots of opportunities to feel like a total fraud at work.Saturday morning on a stormy motorway off to do a gig about surviving work. Slight nausea by Oxford that I’m channeling a very unhealthy disregard for my human right to have a personal life. Who in their right mind stands up publicly to talk about mental health at work when they clearly don’t know a thing about it.
Last week I was skipping down Hampstead high street and saw that there was due to be a book signing by a philosopher I used to work for. This was my first proper job in an age before employability, typing his philosophical thoughts about truth which was something that people were interested in in the 1990s. Propelled by a healthy existential paranoia I became concerned that as I was typing he was pulling faces behind my back and decided to sneak a peek when he was mid flow.
Ladies and gents, it was indeed disturbing to find that in fact he was dictating while staring intensely into a mirror, combing his Charles I beard. Like a servant catching her masters in an act of intimacy I blushed and looked away. Man stares adoringly at his own reflection while talking about truth. You don’t have to be a philosopher to see the paradox there.
Said philosopher has recently set up a private university in a surprisingly unsophisticated two fingered gesture at his colleagues and the title of his new book is ‘Friendship”. My usually generous spirit totally failed to see the funny side and I shouted out loud “For Christ’s sake he doesn’t have any!!!!”.
So I’ve been thinking about friendship and whether there is a way of avoiding sentencing him to the dustbin of hypocrite and me to the one labelled ‘orrible friendless cow,
This might be just me, but when it comes to work we’re all a bit Rob Ford. Hear me out. At work our sense of love for our fellow human beings takes a serious pounding.
Rob’s obviously got a few intimacy issues. As the awesome Bonnie Dobson said on stage this weekend “What can you say about my home town, a mayor whose excuse for taking crack is that he was drunk at the time”.
We are all vulnerable to a bit of fear and loathing of the people we work with. I for one can recall in recent memory a fortunately internal script about wanting to f***ing kill someone that I work with who betrayed my arse publicly and with real material consequences to me.
As I go round interviewing people for the Surviving Work Library one of the questions I ask is about psychic sherpas, the people that help us through a work crisis.
Often these stories are complex, bursting romantic bubbles about Team Friendship. At times the very people we consider to have our back are in fact aiming knives at them. Yup, people can be very mean. They can also be careless, indifferent and self-absorbed.
But this does not have to mean we write off friendship forever and move to a Siberian psychic world where everyone is horrible and you need a gun.
For most of us, when things get tough at work people respond and in many cases the people that save the day are not the usual suspects. Someone who I indifferently shared an office with for 5 years got me through the soul shaking process of fighting a compulsory redundancy. The person categorised as friend who was supposed to represent me didn’t turn up and he stepped in to calmly tell my employers why they were making a mistake. He saved my job and I don‘t think that he knew a single intimate thing about me. In fact I’m pretty sure I drove him to the limits of his sanity by relentlessly trying to make him my friend when, like a good academic, he had no desire for human contact between us.
We are all amateurs when it comes to friendship. Some days we are loves young dream for the people we work with and then we mess it up and play a home goal.
There are risks to getting close to the people around you but the consequences of trashing the possibility of friendship are really devastating. And that is what philosophers call a truth.
Listen to really lovely people talk about how to make friends and influence people here.