Commodity Relating 101

I wrote about Jung last week, which is ironic, because this week I had a chance to deal with the unconscious in a very direct way. What I mean is that I had an encounter with, if not the collective unconscious, then certainly other people’s personal unconscious. And now that I think about it, maybe it was more than that. Maybe it was collective after all, since it happened at a university and may be part of the school’s culture.

I had a few meetings and lunch at the Manhattan campus where I do some consulting. I don’t go to this campus much anymore, since my classes are at another site and most of the people I had dealings with are gone, having been let go as a result of what might be called “regime change.” It happens in companies and institutions of higher education as well as governments. That’s probably no surprise. What was a surprise was the attitude of all but a few people toward me.

For instance, when you pass someone in the hall and wave only to be disregarded by that person, who, incidentally, has a hearty “hi-how-are-you” for the person in front of you, you might feel slighted. Not me. I am a big boy. When you are sitting at a table with a colleague and others come up, introduce themselves all around, and leave you out, you might feel overlooked, even disrespected. Not moi. I am a grown man and know that most people don’t do anything like that on purpose. They might not even have seen me. When the vp of the university comes up and makes it a point to engage the two people you are standing with without even looking at you, a lesser person might feel invisible. I’d like to say I was above that, but the truth is I felt invisible.

These three incidents happened on the same day within hours of each other. I see a pattern. I am going to take it out of the personal realm, because I’ve lived long enough to know that most things are not about me. And even when they are, they aren’t. The pattern is one of distance, posturing, and anxiety, all of which are characteristic of an institution in distress.


When the workplace is in distress, people hunker down within the safe walls of their jobs and working relationships. Most of these relationships involve a pecking order in which you have a clear view of who is above you and who below. To those above, you must show deference, obedience, and a certain amount of warmth, although not too much since excess emotion can be deadly. To those below, you don’t have to show anything except cold indifference. Often, you don’t even have to acknowledge their existence.

I am in the “below” category if for no other reason than I am not a staff member but part-time faculty. There is no need to show me deference or fear. I have no supervisory authority over anyone. I am not one of those who will eviscerate you, although those people do exist–sociopaths, mainly–masquerading as hard, loyal professionals. Beware the sincere slap on the back, “bro.”

Most women know what I am talking about. The provocative comment, disdainful stare, patronizing email, joke that only the men get–these are all ways in which the culture of mistrust and oppression perpetuates itself. It gets even worse when people are afraid of losing their jobs. Then everyone–men, women, young, old, interns, and vp’s–do the hunker down thing. They close up, shut down, and are too afraid even to laugh. They acknowledge only positive achievements in glowing terms while praising the ingenuity of the higher ups. You can always ignore the lower downs. Anything more than that requires energy, which you do not have.

This is making commodities of relationships. It’s bad enough that we have done it with things, nature, and the animal world. We’re also doing it to each other. And we’re teaching it to our students. If you can’t help me get a job, keep my job, or find a better one, what good are you?

Flickr photos by Conrad Bakker (top), Xavier Verg├Ęs (middle) shared under a Creative Commons (BY 4.0) license. Note to Self: Good name for a band, “Speed Checked by Radar.” Happy birthday, Mrs. B. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance.

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