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When Work Becomes Deadening - Finding Meaning in the Drudgery and Deadness of Work


I arrived at 1 a.m. in Buenos Aires last week, tired from a long trip upended by flight cancellations and delays, got my suitcase off the conveyor belt, and went to the ATM machine to extract some Argentine pesos. The ATM machine swallowed my card but didn’t spit it back out. I grabbed the cash and forgot the card inside the machine.


Seven hours later, I woke up at a small hotel, ate breakfast, and then realized that I didn’t have my card. I soon learned that, in less than an hour, sophisticated thieves had managed to siphon a couple of grand from my account. How they obtained my PIN and rigged the machine to hold my card is still a mystery.


My card’s fraud department said that I should make a formal report at the nearest police station. I had been feeling sorry for myself until I arrived at the station inside the airport. But my attitude changed as I spent the next two hours watching about 20 police officers perform dreary, lifeless work.


The station was in a back corner of the airport. Two private security guards were sitting on metal chairs without cushions and smoking cigarettes, half asleep. Stale fluorescent lighting illuminated the smoke-filled room. The walls were painted a drab, neutral gray. A small painting of a Greek villa overlooking the ocean was the only decoration; it seemed like a cruel reminder of life beyond the windowless police station.


Although each officer had a sidearm and heavy black boots, their actual work only involved stapling documents, shuffling paper from one file to another, rubber stamping official forms, and entering data on old computers. This movement was salted by officers singing little ditties in Spanish, telling jokes about the new woman in the office, and smoking.


After two hours of waiting, the officer who had typed out my denuncia couldn’t get the printer to work. In fact, none of the printers at the station were working. After 30 minutes of failed attempts, he took a pen drive to another location in the airport, borrowed a computer, and finally came back with the official document for my case. As we both signed the papers, he apologized for the problems. I smiled, told him not to worry, and thanked him for his perseverance. He still seemed embarrassed, saying “This is Argentina, you know.”


His daily struggle with mundane work, of course, is not limited to his country. Argentina is a vibrant, culturally rich nation with an amazing history. It’s possible that more people in developing countries have to endure mundane work than people in wealthier nations, but the problem has deeper roots than just the economics of a nation. Mundane, banal work is the result of a spiritual breakdown. Underneath the surface, I think those police officers realized that they were designed for more fulfilling and meaningful work. This is just the start to a GREAT article from the guys at InsideWork, to read the rest of it, visit their site.

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posted by Justin Forman | 4.20.2010 - 7:37 AM

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