Have We Progressed at All in the Last Fifty Years

A Contrarian View

The past few weeks have hit me like being rolled over by a truck. They have questioned all my assumptions, and I’m not sure I have answers to the things that I’ve been meditating on all week, but the questions have certainly come into focus. I’ve been in the workforce for fifty years. Have we progressed at all?

First, I assumed that the first Women’s Movement, the one in which I participated, the one for which I burned my bra, marched, and wrote impassioned essays about, had produced greater equality in the workplace, and more empowerment for women. I did not think it was still the days of Mad Men. Apparently, that was incorrect. The recent spate of “outings” by women of men who have continued to both ignore and harass them tells me I just wasn’t paying enough attention, and my optimistic view of today’s workplace was myopic.

Second, I assumed that technology would be an equalizer globally, and produce greater dialogue, and — don’t laugh at me here — world peace. Also wrong. Even the Arab Spring, the ne plus ultra when it comes to judging the success of social media, didn’t amount to anything either for the Arabs or for us. We’re at war all over the world. We can hardly have civil discourse with people in our own “friends” lists, much less people in other countries with differing beliefs, and our inability to do that is illustrated every day in our own government.

Third, I thought it was worth spending my time on social networks, where I met many friends and learned a lot. I felt that visibility on those networks was a positive, and that a “personal brand” was both possible and attainable. And sustainable. Now that’s in doubt. It’s down right dangerous to be on social media these days. There’s fat shaming, slut shaming, racism, not-radical-enough shaming, and just plain cyber bullying. Both Facebook and Twitter have become cess pools, and we are living in filter bubbles full of dirty water, in danger of drowning in our own sewage.

And last, I thought that an informal, flat workplace, devoid of hierarchy, in which people felt like they were almost family, would lead to more humane companies and less loneliness and atomization. Definitely wrong. I’ve learned that these workplaces have produced people who demean the dignity of work with their behavior, be it drinking, doing drugs, sexual harassment, and other things that could be considered “inappropriate” for the workplace if, indeed, we still had standards.

I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but I think what we need is a code of conduct for the workplace, and we should send it home with every child that enters a school, and it should be at least alluded to in school. It could be called “how to be an adult in society.” The parents who have brought up the last couple of generations have entitled them, but failed to teach them how to engage fruitfully with the world.

Yeah, I’m grumpy. When all your assumptions are questioned, you sometimes do get grumpy. Get those kids off my lawn. The collision of my old assumptions with the reality of the past few weeks has led me to a new place, although I’m not sure where that is just yet. I’ll keep you posted. #evolving