3.17.2008

Sad Proof that the Balphs Really Exist

I'm reading Atlas Shrugged again, for the umpteenth time, though the first in a few years. It's kind of like getting reacquainted with old friends after a long absence. One thing I don't have the patience for is the descriptions of the secondhanders' discussions. When Wesley Mouch or Balph Eubank start talking, I tend to skim it. I know what rot they're going to say and I have no need to revisit it in detail.

But while pondering this, I realized that for the most part, I'm thankfully spared dealing with people like that in my daily life. Perhaps it's by selective pressure -- I simply refuse to spend any time with people that would spout useless drivel like that, so I sometimes forget people like that populate the world. Even at work, where I can't pick and choose with whom I interact, I rarely encounter it.

A recent work meeting hit me smack in the face, though.

Some quick background: a certain department had been operating for some years in a rather rogue fashion, and for whatever reason their activities had not been checked yet. It was found during an internal audit that some web servers they had been using violated security policy and were summarily shut down. After nearly two months of downtime and a deluge of user complaints, I was brought in to advise them on strategies to get things working again.

I went into the meeting having already laid out some options over email, and I had advised them of the seriousness of the situation a number of times over the past two years when I had happened to deal with them on other issues. Each time I had proposed options and strategies they could employ to avert what I saw as a coming crisis. In other words, a reasonable person should have seen what was coming.

I expected the meeting would be a strategy session, and that they would rely on my expertise to help guide them out of their mess. I was wrong.

For 45 minutes I sat and listened to whining as they rehashed the situation and wondered why the security team was persecuting them. Didn't they know how important their work was? They were taking the situation personally when it was anything but. A potential vulnerability had been identified and it had been closed. End of story. What they did from that point was up to them.

But they had done nothing. In two months they had not attempted to find other options, or to begin the process of rebuilding in a secure way. While their users complained, they went on as if nothing had happened. When questioned about the status of their issues, they blamed others. They threw up their hands and said "Why us?!"

I was truly at a loss for words for those 45 minutes. The levels of evasion they were displaying were just astonishing. And they were whining to someone -- me -- who had no power to fix what had happened, but only could offer them guidance so they could help themselves.

I attempted to break the problem down for them, and say simply that rather than look backward at what had happened, they needed to pursue at least two simultaneous paths to bring their sites back up. I told them point blank what those paths should be. They looked like they thought about it for a minute, and then went right back to whining. I pulled them back to concrete actions that they could take to fix the problems, and they pulled right back to unfocused ranting.

I left the meeting with nothing accomplished except for frustration at their incompetence and blindness. Later, I tried to grasp how anyone could live their life in such a way. How many little evasions add up to such a grand break from reality? How could two grown people hitch their wagons to the same bad premises and not realize it?

Now I know these questions are largely rhetorical because this type of thing happens all the time in the world. But I'm so rarely confronted with it in person that it still genuinely shocks and saddens me.

It was an interesting experiment, however. I kept looking for some glimmer of understanding, some acceptance of the reality of the situation, and there was none. I appealed to reason, logic, purposeful action, and it fell on deaf ears. If they now fail, it will be entirely of their own doing, and in willful evasion of the facts of the situation and the solutions laid out in front of them on a golden platter.

All I can do is shake my head in wonder.


2 comments:

Rational Jenn said...

Wow. I've been away from a typical work situation for so long that your post reminded me of the Balphs in my past, too. I'm generally able to avoid Balphs on a day-to-day basis, not being forced to deal too much with such people just because we work at the same company.

Don't you just want to knock (literally) some sense into people like that? Sheesh.

C. August said...

The strange thing was that I wasn't really angry. The whole thing seemed surreal and it felt very detached. Perhaps it was because I didn't own the issue and was acting only in a consultative fashion, I was able to look dispassionately at it without getting caught up in the particulars.

I distinctly remember sitting there in amazement that they could go on for that long without accepting even a little bit of the reality of the situation. I simply can't understand how someone could work so hard and so successfully at completely deluding themselves.

I need to file this one away in the old brain and recall it when I wonder how some person or group could act so irrationally. If this is the way a significant majority of people approach the world, it's no wonder so many things are so messed up.