Saturday, March 27, 2010

Comfortably Dysfunctional

I was listening to this week's episode of This American Life. The topic was the joint venture between General Motors and Toyota, and basically, how GM as a company failed to learn the lessons of that venture, and the Toyota way of doing things, and how that helped lead them to only continuing to be a viable concern because of a massive infusion of capital from the federal government. One of the things that NPR automotive correspondent Frank Langfitt said during the piece really struck me. I don't claim to have a photographic memory, so I'm paraphrasing here, and hoping that I get it right, but he said something along the lines of that people at General Motors had become too comfortable with their roles in a dysfunctional relationship.

Yes, I know. It's nothing particularly profound, but upon hearing that, I suddenly had a phrase that put into words so many things that I had been seeing, and not really knowing how to talk about. Like most simple and elegant explanations, it effortlessly fit into so many different places. (Although, like simple and elegant explanations, it also runs the very real risk of being overused.)

In work, in politics, in society... it's really easy to see how things aren't working because so many of us have allowed ourselves to become comfortable with our roles in frighteningly dysfunctional relationships with each other. Politics, especially.

Tell me which side of the political spectrum the owner of this car considers themselves to be on.

Now, think about how long it might be before both sides of the aisle are driving around with this sentiment plastered on their back bumpers. Not that far in the future, is it? But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Your President. My President. Whatever happened to OUR President? Karl Rove may have demonstrated that running to 51% of the electorate while simultaneously ignoring and vilifying the other 49% to be a viable political strategy, but it's also showing itself to have been a catastrophically short-sighted one. The nature of politics is such that one expects a certain level of dysfunction between partisan members of the public and politicians of the other party. But when the relationship between the different ideological segments of the public is dysfunctional to the point of a rhetorical civil war, something has gone seriously off the rails.

And as the dysfunction grows and becomes more entrenched, people become more and more comfortable, not only with their role in the dysfunctional relationship, but with the idea that the relationship isn't dysfunctional enough. And so the dysfunction comes to be both a means to and end, and an end in and of itself - a desirable state that is to be sought after.

It would be easy to say that if dysfunction wins, we all lose. But that's not true. People are smart enough that someone will have positioned themselves to benefit if the rest of us self-destruct. (Or at least they think they have.) But I can't see how I'd manage that feat myself, so I'm pretty sure that if dysfunction wins, I lose. Which gives me an incentive to find either a way to benefit from the ongoing rancor, or a way to bring it to an end. Right now, I must admit that I'm at a loss as to how to do either. Which prevents me from being comfortable with my role in this relationship. I have no idea what I'm going to do about this. But I'm hoping that necessity will, once again, be the mother of invention, because, comfortably or not, we can't go on like this.
Posted by Picasa

No comments: