Why this, not that?

Johnson Wang — Unsplash

This week, a question/provocation appeared in my inbox:

Hi Susan!
What is your philosophy behind your phrase: ‘to eliminate all suffering at the workplace’?
Why not, ‘to help people find more joy in the workplace’?
Excuse the crappy paraphrasing.
I hope you don’t misread my curiosity for criticism. I’m asking simply because I struggle to see how these two work together.

I was so grateful for this question, for me, as one who struggles with asynchronous communication, who values dialogue and discourse with such voracity it makes me ache, this was an absolute gift.

When I first began to blog, write, essay etc. (and even today!) I felt little pangs of unworthiness, that my opinions and haughty (sometimes) proclamations of my latest epiphany were hot air. Like I had no right. Much of this is my ongoing process of being judged, even by people I love, that my opinions feel so strong as to be intransigent, although in my heart they remain malleable as chewing gum.

I relaxed into the question for a day or two, and this was my response:

What a great, provocative question! Thank you for offering it.
Not to be pedantic, but my impulse is to ‘end’ suffering in the workplace, not ‘eliminate’ it. I feel the two words are different in intention.
I’m not a buddhist, so while I appreciate that suffering is a non-negotiable element of the human condition, I feel like we can choose to actively create alternatives to the entrenched hierarchical, patriarchal, coercive, mean and extractive work paradigms that 99% of humanity operate under today.
I think that it is certainly within each of us to individually cultivate practices and a mindset which can bring us (and to an extent others) more joy in the workplace, but for me that doesn’t address the underlying issue. Its treating the symptom instead of the cause.
For most of us, we don’t have a reasonable alternative to traditional employment. It makes my blood boil when organisations pay for resilience training or mindfulness training simply to tick the employee engagement or health and safety box, only to use it as an excuse to keep abusing employees. Providing more tools so they can continue to extract more and more. As long as we are looking at organisations like machines with parts to be optimised, and are inherently replaceable, this is the outcome.
So yes, I think we can all find ways to be more joyful at work. But if the construct of the workplace is designed to produce suffering through extraction, coercion, manipulation and control, it’s not changing anything.
What do you think?

What do you think? Love, Susan.