By Ray Petersen — I remember reading once, many years ago, that “frustration invites us all, but it is we who accept the invitation.” I can’t remember who said or wrote it, and none of my internet searches have revealed it, but I’ve always found it a bit platitudinous. It’s easy to say that is, but not so easy to justify. Frustration is defined (Cambridge Dictionary) as “the feeling of being annoyed because things are not happening the way you want, or in the way they should.” To me, there has always been a significant difference in those two explanations, which are actually, significantly at odds with each other, and possibly go some way to explaining why people do get frustrated.
First, the way we “want” things to happen is almost petulant, when it is peeled back to its absolute explanation, and almost impossible to justify. After all, why should anything have to be, “the way you want?” It reeks of a spoiled child, who has never known discipline. It echoes of a ‘poor little rich boy’ who has never been told “no!” It smacks of entitlement, rights, prerogative and distorted wealth.
On the other hand, “the way things should be” offers support to personal, social, societal, institutional and organisational acceptability. It speaks to rights, obligations and almost goes as far as to imply a necessity to respondents to do “the right thing”.
Frustration is often a consequence of interacting with people who accept authority, but not responsibility, and whose ‘care-factor’ is more about the position, than their performance of the duties and responsibilities that go with it. I understand that many people around the world are not happy with their lot, however, to make their clients and customers the recipients of lack-lustre performance, is not the way to improve your prospects.
So that’s how frustration may not be justified, but how it is seen from the perspective of those who experience it. So what should our reactions be in frustrating situations? Should we, as some would say, “take a chill pill?” Should we simply accept things as being “the way they are” or should we offer our feedback or opinion? I think it’s important for those who come after us that we don’t accept mediocrity of performance, especially in the public sector or service industries, otherwise the mediocrity is perpetuated, and any nod towards quality and accountability become just that.
In a 1980’s sitcom, ‘Yes Minister’, Sir Humphrey Appleby was a character in the bureaucracy who was the perfect example of someone who set out to frustrate his foes by using the ‘excuse book’ used by the public service, because “you can’t have things happening too quickly,” he would tell his government minister, “or they (his constituents) will think it’s too easy”.
Appleby, though a character in a TV series, was often so deliciously close to the bone in his portrayal not only of civil servants, but of anyone in a service industry who usually feels that they can do a better job of everything, than anyone else can, until they are given the opportunity, and are found wanting.
One of the massive problems facing our, or the current generation, is this current buzzword, equality, which is being often bandied, but also often, very badly used. The fact is, that in terms of workplace performance, we are not all equal, and it’s folly to think so. No matter what the work environment, there are those who excel, those who accept, and can manage responsibility.
In exactly the same way, there are those who are not able to deal with the weight of acceptable performance, without thinking about seniority and responsibility. Be you expatriate or national, European, Asian, African, or Polynesian, not everyone is a leader, or a manager and I often feel that we don’t celebrate enough the effective middle managers that inhabit workplace environments all around the world.
These are the people who keep the wheels of commerce, industry, retail, education and government turning. These are the ones who keep that big, bad wolf, that is frustration, from constituents, customers, clients and students. They are the ones who ensure that things are done, “the way they should be done,” not necessarily the way we want them done, but in the best way.
Yet, these wonderfully effective individuals, who are among the most important in our societies, are those least remembered, or rewarded, for dealing with incompetency, and misguided enthusiasm, in such a manner that is proof of both their effectiveness, and modesty. Look around you today. Truly, is all that you achieve each day down to you? Or would today be a good day to thank someone else. It’s over to you.