Yesterday I described finding something not meant for my eyes; here’s how it played out.
When Hera returned from her absence she was not pleased with my work. It probably sounds like I was naive to expect otherwise; I’ll just say that I was focused on getting the project ready. I hadn’t been too concerned with her, I was getting it done — in retrospect, I’d probably gotten a bit too confident and maybe should have been proactive, letting my supervisor know how I had proceeded, and mentioning it to hers.
I do remember thinking something along the lines of I’m doing it the company way, if she has a problem, it’s hers. But I knew it was going to work, and figured that’d be the end of it.
Whoo boy, was I wrong. She pitched a fit about how I had ruined her files. I mean, I felt like I’d walked into a door slammed in my face — no one should come off a vacation and get that mad. In retrospect, I do feel a tiny bit bad that she lost her “post-vacation glow” so quickly.
On second thought, I’m not sure Hera ever had a post-vacation glow. She may have spent her time away pestering waiters that her food arrived cold, scolding housekeeping about cleaning her room, or hectoring bus drivers for not arriving on schedule.
It wasn’t tough to fix the files, had she wanted to. But it would only have been for her records. They were fine for the company’s needs. But she was shaking mad. I actually offered to search and replace and, with her help, could have restored 90 percent of her kludgy jerry-built workarounds quickly that way, then cleaned up the rest individually, but she wanted none of it. I had wrecked the project; I saw no way to make it better, so cleared out.
I remember it was the first time I walked down those hallways feeling like I was in trouble. As if I needed to report to the principal or the dean, or some such.
Deciding to be proactive and take the initiative (and warn my supervisor), I went to simply tell him we should adapt certain procedures when working with that group from now on. I really didn’t go into her anger; maybe I should have. Because even that blew up in my face. He called her and she vented again — I had wrecked her systems. I required hanging by the thumbs, confessions acquired, and possibly tarring and feathering.
I have insomnia, and for several nights after that I woke up and thought about what I might say to her. “Remember that file you saved? Looks like an email from Athena? Where you two discussed the conversions and the training and management’s lapses in judgment?”
And watch the recognition in her eyes, the conflict, and possibly the dawning horror. Then ask her if maybe this wanted be a good time to simmer down and stop making such a fuss.
“So you think upper management in general is ruining the company and my boss in particular is a symptom of the bumpy road to hell, eh?” Then just smile.
I also imagined going to Athena and telling her of the interesting discovery I made. I liked Athena — in fact, I’m sure we’d still get along. I could have quietly let her know what I had found, and that would have clipped Hera’s wings, too.
I could see Athena’s face, imagine her hissing at Hera, “why on earth did you leave that on your system then tell him to go looking for a cheat sheet of your procedures? Are you insane?”
To some degree, I felt the answer was yes.
But by daylight I decided not to do either. I read somewhere that the Chinese have a practice of considering the advantages of not-doing as much as those of doing. Sort of like the medical edict, “First, do no harm.”
The notion is that sometimes we are better off not taking action, rather than simply taking some action in a half-baked plan to resolve a problem. The law of unintended consequences being one so often observed in these situations.
It’s not an instinct commonly felt here in can-do America, as our foreign policy shows so far this century. You start off trumpeting a plan to gift a peoples with democracy, and end up with Abu Ghirab.
So I thought better of talking. I kept my powder dry, as the saying goes, and let her restore her systems on her own. As occasional frictions were not uncommon in so ungainly an outfit as the company, I think my supervisor was even slightly amused.
He said something about well, we all have certain departments that are more difficult than others, as if now I, too, had an area to be avoided. I wondered if it pleased him. But I still said nothing about the file I’d found.
The funny thing is, later on I ran in to Hera again. She was cleaning out a fridge in her department; I was visiting for some other project. She smiled and stopped me, she was eager to chat. That rather startled me, but I stopped and said hello, then watched. Maybe it was her way of saying bygones were bygones.
She wore dishwashing gloves. She was pulling other people’s food out, and making faces. She sprayed spills with a disinfectant and as she did all of this she brought up Athena, in a casual sort of way, that made me wonder if she knew somehow. I hadn’t saved the file I’d read — so there were no overt signs for someone with her computer skills to have known I’d opened it. So she couldn’t have known I’d read it — but still.
She mentioned an event Athena was working on and hoped I would attend. I wanted to ask what she was going to do with other people’s food; if I worked there, I wouldn’t want her touching my stuff, but I didn’t work there, so let it go. Yet she saw me looking and said, “I keep an eye on things, and when it gets passed the expiration date, I throw it out!” with a laugh.
I did not ask how she calculated the expiration date of someone else’s leftovers. It wasn’t my concern. She had her own rigid world, and clearly her own demons, and as I left their department, I was glad I never said anything to either of them.