Saturday, June 4, 2022

Status Quo

Preserving the status quo is easy: just do nothing!

In a very early posting, I went on about how passive-aggressive people are annoying.  One aspect of passive-aggressive behavior is to preserve the status quo.  What does this mean, how do people do it, and why do they do it?

In answering these questions, let me use an example.  The Parcheesi Club is seeking new headquarters for their classes and tournaments.  The old one, in a leaky basement, is falling apart - full of water, mold, mildew and even rats.  The Parcheesi boards are warped and damp and have rat-gnawed corners on them!  What to do?  Find someplace more pleasant, perhaps.

But some of the older players - circling the drain and near death, who haven't even played Parcheesi in years, want none of that!  Why is a good question, but we'll get to that later.  Bear in mind that this process of finding a new home for the Parcheesi club has been going on for several years now, perhaps nearly a decade, with no resolution yet.  Preserving the status quo is high on their agenda.  It is lost on them that one day, many years ago, some group of people had the gumption to set up the Parcheesi Club and establish its current location - no status quo to fight back then!  But they don't get that.

So to answer the second question, how do you preserve the status quo?  The answer: do nothing.  For example, the Parcheesi club was offered new world headquarters several years ago.  An entire building, for free (or nearly free) with the only caveat that they had to pay for moving expenses and to fit out the building to their needs.  The folks in charge of the Parcheesi club simply never responded to the offer, and months later, the building was handed over to someone else.  When asked why, the building's owner said, "Well, you never responded to my offer, so I assumed you weren't interested!"

Score: Status Quo 1, Change 0.

Doing nothing is the easiest option, particularly when you are in charge or in the chain of command.  If not in charge, fear not, your passive-aggressive options are still many!  For example, call for the formation of a committee or the ironically named "task force" which is often tasked with nothing and has no real force.  Committees are where great ideas go to die and where horrible ideas come to life.

The secret is, of course, to make sure that key members supporting the status quo are put on the committee.  Next, be sure to raise lots of "questions" that can't be readily answered and thus require "further study" and perhaps a "report" by a "subcommittee."  If you are really brilliant, you can pawn these studies off onto "experts" that you hire (and if you are clever, pay you a kick-back) whose "reports" say that the whole idea is hooey.

Even if reports come back positive, you can always ask for more data, better quantification of costs, more detailed plans, and so on.  If that doesn't work, always bring up obscure possibilities or bizarre outcomes.  "Suppose the roof collapses on this new Parcheesi Club building?  Where would we be then, huh?  Bet you didn't think of that, didya!"

Again, the possibilities are endless, you just have to use your own imagination or lack thereof.   Just be an obstructionist, the deciding "no" vote or whatever.  In fact, if all else fails, ask to put any idea to a vote - a sure way to get something shouted down, particularly after you spread nasty rumors that there is some evil conspiracy behind it all.  Smart move.

But why?  Why, you ask, would someone want to thwart progress?  The answers vary depending on circumstances.  In the case of a volunteer group like the Parcheesi Club it may be a matter of mental illness - or just the thought that something that wasn't their idea is being proposed. And there's a hint right there if you are fighting a passive-aggressive person on an issue like this - let them take credit for it and suddenly they will fight tooth and nail for it.  Of course, that can backfire, as once they get ownership of the idea, they can kill the baby in the crib.

There are other reasons as well.  People are afraid of change - we all are.  I have a computer that works and does what I want it to do - why should I change to a new computer and a new operating system?  Change is scary - and requires effort.  You have to re-learn things and un-learn old things.  As a result, it takes time, but hopefully, it means you have more options and better choices going down the road.  We see this today with electric cars - why bother changing when my existing internal combustion car is doing fine?  We just need to bomb some more brown people to get them to cough up some more cheap gas!

In a business context, there may be other reasons.  For example, you are part of a group of people proposing a new product.  Someone else in the department - or worse yet, a competing department - doesn't want to see you succeed, as that means you might get promoted over them.  One way for them to advance their personal cause is to see you fail.  Yes, companies are like this, and it always surprises me that anything gets done in modern corporations, given all the stupid shenanigans people get caught up in.   Usually, if these sort of games are being played, it is a sign you need to lay off some people - folks don't have enough real work to do!

Like I said, the Parcheesi Club has been looking for a new home for almost a decade now, and the passive-aggressives have won every time, so far, simply by not following up with the landlord when he offers them a new space.  "The old place is just fine!" they say, tipping their hand as to their real motivations.  "This talk of a new space is just a ploy to separate the Parcheesi Club from the Chutes 'N Ladders Society!"   Ahh, the conspiracy theory begins!

So, they have turned down at least three locations so far, and maybe will screw the pooch on a fourth.  The problem is, the current location is in such bad shape, the landlord may have to evict both the Parcheesi Club and the Chutes 'N Ladders society in order to do much-needed repairs.  I mean, when the roof is ready to fall off and the walls are crumbling, you have to do something or you can lose a whole building in a real hurry.  So, ironically, the passive-agressive people who are trying to preserve the status quo may end up destroying it forever.

We already lost another organization this way, and the motivations were interesting.  Our beautification  society was staffed by a number of women who tried to beautify the island.  The decided, after many years, to disband, as they felt there were no new members worthy of taking over the organization.  Several new members offered to step up to the plate, but the status quo said "no, we'll just disband!"  It is weird, but sometimes people don't want to see an organization succeed or succeed them.  "It all went downhill after I left!" people say, after they set fire to the place on their way out the door.

People are weird - and remarkably inefficient.  As a result, as I have noted time and time again, human beings operate at a very low efficiency level.   In any organization, particularly once it exceeds Dunbar's Number, you get people working at opposite purposes.  Hire enough people and you will end up with employees who not only are not working for you, but actively working against you.  We saw this in the American car industry, when employees not only would forget to do their jobs (leaving bolts off cars, for example) but actually spend extra time sabotaging the cars or the assembly line (leaving coke bottles in the doors or literally throwing a wrench in the conveyor chain to cause it to break, so they could have a break.

What is frustrating and heartbreaking is when people try to enact changes and are thwarted time and time again by the passive-aggressive status quo preservationists.  You butt your head up against the wall often enough and eventually you give up, depressed and downtrodden, having been beaten not by a worthy opponent, but rather by someone who just did nothing to thwart your efforts.

This is why I am glad to be retired, and why I am not a member of the Parcheesi Club.  Any club that would have me as a member.... right?   But I see others I care about trying to make things better and I only hope they don't get hurt.

Because I would be very pissed off if that happened!

UPDATE:  A reader writes:

Reminds me of the Simple Sabotage Field Manual from WW2:

"...Organizations and Conferences

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length.
  • Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  • Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on..."
Wow, that nailed it!