How to Make Enemies and Annoy People

I should be happy. Yesterday, my other blog, the boring one about what I do for a living, set a new record for visitors and hits. But I am not happy. Why? Because the recipe for lots of hits is also the recipe for generating more annoyance than a bumblebee buzzing around your gym shorts. Which may not be good for business.

There is a character in the Batman comics, and the recent film, called Two-Face. He is a pretty daft character in some ways, but I can sympathize with his plight. One half wants to do what is right. The other half knows that is a lot of nonsense and just wants. In Freudian terms, the character literally vacillates between indulging the id and being governed by the superego. I think I am like Two-Face, but with the polarity reversed. Two-Face’s id wants to do lots of bad things, like stealing and killing, but the superego wants to do good, like fighting injustice. I think my id wants to do good things, like getting along with people and making friends, and my stupid superego wants lots of terrible and contradictory things, like stopping people doing things I do not like, whilst being democratic about every blasted decision.

I quoted Abraham Lincoln on my other website. How preposterous is that? And not just a one-line quote either. I quoted the Gettysburg Address. The whole thing. I must be insane. I work in some tiny little pissant field that most people think is only about reconciling billing data to ensure it is not mucked up. Yet I quote Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, in order to defend my right to poke fun at some other pissant. Geez. Even Barack Obama does not quote the whole Gettysburg Address. In hindsight, it seems like overkill. That is putting it mildly. It is more overkill than squashing an ant with a pneumatic drill.

But I did not start it. They started it. (Hmmm… that argument did not impress even when I was a schoolkid, but in the end it is the best I have got.) They took a line from the Gettysburg Address, which in Lincoln’s original was about government of the people, for the people, by the people. They prostituted it into some cheap marketing line about how their undemocratic hokum marketing vehicle was really a “world” society “for the operators, by the operators” by which they seem to be implying it was run by telecoms operators. So I poked some fun at it, because they only had two members so far. The one that had paid for the website was not an operator, but in fact was a supplier looking to sell its products. With my keen auditing skills undented after all these years, I concluded this was a 50% failure rate on the aforementioned “by the operators” rule. The other member was the company which I work for, in that strangely contorted sense where a company, or even a group of companies, is a legal person and hence the actions of every employee, no matter how silly or self-serving, are somehow the action of that same legal person. So I, duty bound and sticking rigidly to my established modus operandi, had to poke fun at this silly fellow, and hence my own employer.

Since I started working at BT, I got in the habit of making it clear how new I am by telling people how many “working days” I had been there. On Friday I had completed “working day 20”. I am not expecting to make it to working day 22. That is not all that surprising, because I started voicing doubts about new job at around working day 7. Some of my more perceptive peers who have gotten to know me over the years were less optimistic. They were saying I would not last back on working day 2. It seems they know me better than I know myself. In my own take on the Gettysburg Address, I got it into my head that I would rather leave my job than accede to my employer’s request that I do not exercise my freedom of speech. What irks me most is the timing of when they made the request that I remove a certain blog post that made fun of my silly colleague. This silly bugger must have read the post first thing on Friday morning, and he immediately (and rather arrogantly) demanded I rip it down. In two years and over two hundred posts I have never had anyone demand that before, so I replied back saying I would not. Although half the world seems to have called me during the day to discuss what I wrote, my employer’s HR team somehow decided to only instigate damage limitation (as they must see it) at the very end of the working day. I mean, if they were worried about people reading it, why were they so lethargic in doing something about it? Being a Friday, this implies the entry would be missing from the blogosphere for two days at least and probably closer to three, even assuming this storm in a teacup is resolved in my favour very quickly on Monday. If a week is a long time in politics, then three days is an eternity on the blogosphere. I only make halfthoughts posts once a week, but you really need to write at least every other day to sustain a hungry readership. So I did my own Two-Face shuffle, first agreeing to take it off, then deciding to republish and be damned. I guess that means that, come Monday, I will be offering my resignation, mostly because I see no advantage in hanging around a business which is going to ask me to censor myself all the time. All of which means I could be one of those rare employees that finds the majority of their time in a job is spent working out their notice.

The thing with my line of work is that I never set out to annoy people. Years and years ago, I naively tried to do things right. And when I saw that people did things differently to me, I investigated further to find out why there was a difference in approach. After detailed analysis, sometimes to an obsessive extent that bordered on forensic, I reached a regrettable conclusion. I was doing things right, and other people were doing things wrong. However, when I followed the guidance of my id and decided to point this out in an attempt to be helpful, the aforementioned other people took umbrage. They instead concluded that I was wrong and they were right – and reacted in a very forceful and somewhat unpleasant manner. That moment has pretty much defined my career ever since. Because once you start out being in the minority and being chided by the majority, and once you decide to stick to your guns and not back down, it is hard to ever go back. Being right made me enemies and annoyed people, and from that point there never seemed much opportunity to reverse my approach and just go with the flow and do a rubbish job just to fit in and please people. So instead of fighting my fate, and regularly changing tack like Two-Face, I kept on walking down the same road, knowing I was taking a path less trod.

Ever since, I have regularly looked out for fellow travelers at every opportunity. But, of course, we are in the minority. So my business website is my version of a distress signal, signaling to any like-minded stragglers out in the void. At first it was very like a message in a bottle, thrown aimlessly in the internet sea in the hope that it would wash up and be read somewhere, anywhere. Every few days I would lob another missive into the ocean of words. Luckily enough, my bottles did sometimes find dry land. My bottles now find a lot more friendly shores than they used to. Increasingly people lob bottles back. Often those bottles contain supportive messages. Sometimes the bottles are broken and aimed at my head. But, all things considered, I think I would rather take the good with the bad, than cut myself off completely, and have neither.

I do not know what Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, would make of my technique. Clearly, holding a job for 22 days is not a sign of success. But then again, I would probably find Carnegie a difficult man to like. He tried to tell people about the universal techniques for changing people and winning them over to your way of thinking. They may work, but once everybody has learned them, and has fully employed them, how then do you break a stalemate where two people hold contrary points of view? They cannot both just influence a dispute out of existence. I stopped trying to influence people, as the job was just too big for me. Instead, I am happy to search out and find people who already feel the same way as I do. To do that, you have to say something so people can respond, and obviously not everyone is going to respond positively. It will make me friends and make me enemies at the same time. But maybe the moral of the story here is that there is no need to influence and change the people around you, if you can instead find people who already feel like you do. In those circumstances, even my two-faced id and superego might find a way to be reconciled.

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