It’s interesting, noticing the ways our environments shape us.
I’ve begun working at an office, a pretty classy kind of place. Smart people, sharp dressers, hard workers.
When I got there, I went on a full-scale charm offensive — trying to say hello to everyone, to make contact with everyone.
I was met politely, but rebuffed. They resisted the connection.
Part of me felt that something was wrong — in my old worlds, in the environments in which I was raised, this sort of treatment would indicate dislike, or offense. I spent some days in no small anxiety.
But I pushed forward. I continued to be nice, to attempt to connect. I knew, on some level, that it would have to start with me.
Eventually, I came to understand that it wasn’t me — this was simply a new world, where people had on invisible blinders, where desks were sacred spaces, zones of silence. It was an office full of people, but they were all working alone.
The silence breaks, of course. Encounters in the kitchenette are like comets in a dark night sky, like flashes of light. Not enough to light a room, but enough to see some shapes within.
Coming from the world of the touchy feely, this environment was jarring, at first. But we adapt. After a few weeks, I learned that attempting to make eye contact with those sitting at their desks was something to be avoided. There are places you look, and places you generally don’t. There is a social structure in place here, defined and supported by the corporate structure that shapes it. There is power, and the communication of power. Likewise, there is vulnerability, with its own vocabulary of expression. People play out their roles, and are rewarded. And yet, there is always room for the adequate unexpected.
I prefer to make eye contact with intensity. Here, though, I’ve learned to divert.
The jarring moment now is the one at the end of the day. When I’ve left, and am back in the world. Is it possible to simply turn off the way of being you develop in your workplace? Is it possible to be one person for an intense eight, ten hours, and then be someone else? To be a part of an elaborate structure, and then to step out into the day or the night and remember that you are only one among seven billion equals?
After learning how to suppress the desire to connect, is it so simple to set it free?
We move through life, and we adapt. Things are gained, things are lost. We can only hope the gain is greater.