Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Thought Picnic: Gentlemanly conduct still matters all the time

The setting in which we find ourselves
On the sacking of Rex Tillerson as the US Secretary of State by President Donald Trump, I can reflect on an episode in my own life just a year ago. I was into my fourth year at the same organisation, where after a stint of two years I was invited back to work on another project.
When I was leaving the first time in 2016, every manager I had worked for and there were 4 by then, one on the verge of leaving the firm had the courtesy to meet with or call me, even from South Africa to thank me for the work I had done.
When I was invited back, I acquired other managers, intermediary and direct who I worked well with until a reorganisation led to my having a new manager instituted over me. For some reason or another, apart from the introductions, we never got on to a smooth start.
It was not working for me at all
For the six months that I worked for him, he did not appear to have any confidence in any I did, I was constantly asked if I knew what I was doing rather than being given the support, encouragement and backing to do the sometimes critical jobs I needed to do.
On many occasions, I was not accorded the formality or structure of understanding the direction in which he wanted to lead the team, rather, my roles, responsibilities and work activity were changed without notice, without communication and frequently learnt about through third parties.
My workplace in the space of half a year became a place of disillusionment and unhappiness as every attempt to engage my manager yielded no appreciable result. Then, one Thursday morning, it came to a head where after undercutting my influence in a change that was primarily under my control, I had literally been reduced from designing systems to shifting boxes.
In the 29th year of my working in IT in various levels of expertise and reporting to middle and top-tier personnel, the conversation in conference came down to macho talk as to whether I was going to do what I had been instructed to do or not. That for me was the very last straw that broke the back of the camel burdened with indignity and disrespect. I handed in my phone and badge and walked out of that job. I was done.
I handed in a formal notice the next day explaining the reasons for my leaving and received no acknowledgement nor compliment, I had become a nobody to him.
Maybe some of us are too old-fashioned for modernity
There are many things I have encountered in my working life and what least impresses me of everything kind of attitude is the occasional lack of courtesy and disrespect that some people in management seem to have a natural expression of their personality that they have apparently never learnt is bad or just think is normal.
As someone brought up in a somewhat old-fashioned style of comportment, decorum and formality, in address, dress, communication and interaction, it does affect me, if those graces are absent.
It is such a grace that was absent from the way in which Donald Trump dispensed of Rex Tillerson by the deployment of a tweet. Rex Tillerson was once the head of the world’s largest publicly traded oil company.
Gentlemanly conduct still matters all the time
The very least Donald Trump should have done if he ever were a gentleman, which in my mind he never was despite the money he has, the kitschy possessions, the company he keeps and the way he presents, should have been to meet Rex Tillerson face-to-face and inform him of his intention to fire him.
To have done that with a tweet is utterly discourteous and disrespectful to Rex Tillerson, but it says much more about Donald Trump, he is crude, he is not cultured, badly brought and definitely not a gentleman.
You do not sack one of most senior members of your team without meeting them and having a chat to them, but it is sad that these basic elements of courtesy are disappearing from our communication, we are deserting the cultured for the uncouth and accepting that development as the norm. I can’t, I won’t and where such persists, I would neither tolerate nor accept it.
When a man decides I am nobody’s boy
It spoke volumes that when Rex Tillerson gave a final public address to his department, he never once mentioned Donald Trump nor thanked him for the privilege of being asked to serve his country and many noticed.
Rex Tillerson did not need to be the US Secretary of State, he was not being promoted beyond his capabilities that he needed to have fealty and obeisance in deep gratitude to Donald Trump, he was his own man, not a yes man.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump is attracted to two kinds of people working for him, those given positions they are neither competent nor capable of that they just step in not believing their luck for opportunities they never earned and that comes with serious issues, the others are stars and the successful in their professions that he taps in order to be able to brag that he can get the best people to work for him.
These stars or trophies owe Donald Trump nothing and eventually, there would be friction when whatever they do does not feed The Donald’s ego or when disagreement on issues gets taken personally for a president so insecure and constantly found defending himself caught in the warp of an impostor syndrome.
Sometimes, you have to jump first
It could be said that the smarter person would never consider the idea of working for a garrulous, truculent and immature person like Donald Trump, but sometimes a greater call is made of you and you almost begin to believe that you can contribute, for Rex Tillerson, he probably should have walked away a while ago, jumped before he was pushed.
I had that inkling too, for all that I had already done, it was very likely I would have been pushed when my contract came up for renewal in a few months then, I decided, rather than suffer that indignity, I would jump at my own choosing and it was the right decision.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Thought Picnic: Of habits and habitué

The difference is in the same
I cannot help being a creature of habit, much I seek adventure, I have a tendency to get comfortable with people, places, events, things and ideas. I do make the effort to break away from the mundane and the routine, but some things might just remain the same.
Returning to the same places where I went on holiday because the memories are wonderful and the sense of being and feeling was more than palpable if the hotel has been exemplary, it is unlikely that I will consider an alternative, the familiar loses peculiarity and becomes natural. I could say the same for restaurants and much else, I become a habitué.
I do not easily make friends, but the ones I do make, endure for decades, it is just the nature of who I am, I am quiet, reserved, introverted and in some ways conservative, though you won’t see me and think that.
The Left of mind, a right of loss
Then, when I was in Edinburgh, having been away from home for a week, checked out in the morning and went to work before going to the station to board a train back home. It was when I got back home that I realised I might have left two things in my hotel room.
A can of Brut Original Deodorant and a bottle of Hugo Boss Number One Eau de Toilette, the former I have used for almost 30 years, considering it came on the market in the year of my birth and if my memory serves me right, it used to be in my dad’s grooming kit. The latter I have used for nigh on 23 years, I have not been persuaded of any other deodorant or fragrance.
Now, these are no more in the shops, I must order Brut by bulk from Amazon, Hugo Boss, however, is a strange one, the carton says it was made in the UK, but no UK shop stocks the item. Bizarrely, I am only able to get this when I pass through the Charles de Gaulle airport duty-free shop in Paris and it is not getting any cheaper.
Beating myself harder than with a rod
So, you could imagine my sense of loss when a barely used bottle of Hugo Boss was inadvertently left in a hotel room and I had no inkling as to how to retrieve it. Like gloves, I always have at least one spare bottle to hand, but imagine my utter discomfiture when on returning from a trip to London, I could neither find another pair of these fanciful smell repellents.
I searched all bags, high and low, I could not for the life of me think of how I might have lost them again. For weeks, I was resigned to the fact that I had been a second time careless and had relapsed into mental flagellation occasioning regret.
At one time I had decided I would not more travel with them if I could not trust myself to keep them and return with them.
Redemption of self and soul
Then, a few days ago as I was rifling through my new trolley case for my laptops and work materials, I happened upon the zipped-up cavity where I had stored a power bank and there also was the can of Brut and a bottle of Hugo Boss.
I had neither lost nor misplaced them, I just did not remember they were there. I promptly forgave myself, thought about my possibly fading mental acuity and decided, the world is not lost, these things happen. The habit that has been going on for almost a lifetime serves its purpose, though year on year, I have watched the price of Hugo Boss rise by at least 15%, at such prices, one cannot afford to be careless or even carefree.
To each one his own and thankfully Hugo Boss Number One stands out as a class ahead of the rest because celebrity piss water flooded the shelves of perfumeries that if you venture into such shop floors, your departure will be greeted with a vapour trail of pongy effluent that polite company would rather don a gas mask than suggest you reek of the unmentionable.
To retain certain habits, you have to careful, mindful and resourceful, it is the only way to retain a sense of wellbeing and sanity.

Friday, 23 February 2018

On wounded knee a screen is shattered

Cracking a screen
I have never had a cracked screen on my mobile phone, probably because I have been careful or just because the phones themselves are quite durable.
I remember commenting to certain friends who cannot resist an iToy that I have never seen an iPhone without a cracked screen, they must be a design feature and there is a business that thrives on replacing screens.
Yet, I have come to that experience and it happened last night, though there is much of a story to tell before we get to that episode. A few days before, I walked into a shop where I had been eyeing a pair of boots but had not decided whether they were for me.
Sizing my foot
On this particular day, the shop had three boots on display and for the very first time, it is strange to walk into a shop and find that the shoes where all the same size and that size is my size. There doesn’t seem to be a good standard measure for shoe sizes, though, on the law of averages, we can settle for Size 12 UK or 46 EU, though I have seen Size 13 UK fitting like Size 12.
When I went shopping for trainers a few months ago, I noticed that shoe sizes could be arbitrary when for a particular brand I was shod with Size 19, that was scary. My feet are long, they are not big and so the pejorative of Big Foot or Sasquatch is just what it is, pejorative.
Shoes matter especially from a childhood where my feet outgrew my shoes before I had worn them in and long before they were replaced, I suffered a lot, so the comfort of good fitting shoes is the banishment of childhood trauma.

Fitting the parts
These Undercover boots are no more on the market, sturdy 14-hole boots that demand a new way of lacing them, offering the comfort of ankle support, though not the easiest to slip on or take off. I had not worn them in when I decided to wear them for a journey without a spare pair of footwear.
My first tentative steps were adjusting to the weight of the shoes, the feeling at the shin where I have to pull the tongue to ensure the laces are a bit taut rather than loose, the shaft high up on my leg giving me a clunky feel to a plodding walk until I was well-adjusted to the newness of it all.
The collar is snug, the hem of my trouser leg will slip over the boot and yet when wearing a tracksuit, the track bottoms can be tucked right into the collar, giving a rather militaristic look to things.
Falling on hands and knee
In any case, I had just finished looking at my phone and since I was about to cross the road, I held the phone in my right hand, noticed that the cars had stopped and I crossed. Just as I absentmindedly mounted the pavement or thought I had, I really had not cleared the height either out of getting adjusted to the outsole, I tripped and almost as if I was in a drunken stupor, fell forwards breaking my fall more with my right hand than my left hand.
My left knee hit the ground hard and I was not down for long as my next step as a lady ask if I was OK was to get up and continue walking, thanking the lady for her concern whilst somewhat dazzled by the unexpected accident.
It was then that I looked at my phone and noticed the screen had cracked, it had taken the brunt of breaking my fall. The phone was not damaged beyond repair but I immediately saw that the pattern security lock was not as responsive that I had to change to a PIN code instead.
Nursing my wounds
When I got back to my hotel, I pulled off the boots, took off my trousers and my poor knee was both grazed and bruised, it had bled a bit and it hurt too. I cleaned the wounds but had not first aid kit to tend it. I wrapped tissue paper round my knee, fixed on a towel like a bandage and went to bed until the morning when I would get some antiseptic cream and plasters for my knee.
As my mobile phone is not a popular brand, the screen cannot be easily replaced except if I acquire one off eBay, the intention to replace my phone that I have vacillated about for months has now been forced upon me.
Invariably, I cannot say if it was the boot or plain clumsiness that caused my fall, it happened and that is the tale of the broken screen on bleeding knee.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Thought Picnic: The memories of times, places, events and people

The memories of another day
16 annual Sundays ago on February the 10th in 2002, we gathered for brunch at my favourite Paris haunt, Café Beaubourg to celebrate the 50th birthday of my dear friend Dick van Galen Last. We were both residents of Amsterdam, but we had met in Paris some 4 years before, when I still lived in England and kept contact through when I moved to the Netherlands in 2000, when he was my most friendly support in helping me settle down in my first month.
We had a tradition of meeting every few months for dinner, usually, at his place where he entertained an eclectic crowd, Dick was a global citizen with friends from all corners of the earth.
Dick would have been 66 today, but he passed on, on the 2nd of February 2010, just days short of his 58th birthday.
To memories of events that last
February presents to me in many ways, the end and the renewal, 2002 was a celebration of life and the joy of friendship, a few years after, I had two nephews born on the same day, two years apart, young boys coming into adolescence I need to make more than an acquaintance with.
On the 8th of February 2010, I had two events to attend, the morning was at a chapel where some crowd numbering hundreds on one of the coldest February mornings in Amsterdam gathered to bid Dick farewell, I could not make it to the reception after the internment.
For memories to recall in the future
Then, I hurried to the hospital for my penultimate session of chemotherapy with a nursing team who were just as shocked as I was at Dick’s demise, we shared the same consultant and oncologist. That session of chemotherapy when we finally found a vein to stick a needle in, turned out to be my last and the road ahead of me after that became one of recovery and recuperation.
The memories are keen and they are fond, to friends and lovers gone before, you are never forgotten. Let February bring life and happiness again.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

It's about respect and make that matter every time

Know your worth
A number of events have inspired me to write this blog, even one that I reminisced about to a colleague at work about the beginning of my career.
I was a 24-year old with 30% equity in a desktop publishing outfit with a well-established lawyer twice my age who was also a director of one of the biggest banks in Nigeria, if not Africa, almost 30 years ago.
During one of our conversations, he dipped his hand in his flowing gown and threw money at me across the table. I picked up the wad of cash, put in back in front of him and said, “My parents have never thrown money at me, I’m sorry, you do not earn the opportunity to do that to me.
He was aghast that he just could not understand that I was neither obsequious nor fawning, but forthright and bold. He wondered why because of what I had in my head I could so irreverent and for a few more times he did things to undermine and belittle me until I was compelled to tell him.
You don’t give 30% of a company to a 24-year old and think that is the end of it, I will walk away from this and start again somewhere else.” That is what I eventually did.
Take no shit
On another occasion, it was at work where traders had become demigods because of the kind of money they brought into the company. It meant everyone answered to their every whim regardless of how the demand was made.
It was one evening when I was on the phone to one of such demigod traders that he began with unprintable expletives, swearing and cursing at me without relenting. When I finally got to answer him, I said. “I’m sorry, I do not get paid enough to be spoken to like this, I will put down the phone and you can call me again when you are ready for me to attend to your issue.
I ended the call and a few minutes later, he was on the phone again, first apologising and then I was able to look into the issue he had and resolve it. The truth is, I really cannot be paid enough to be insulted and abused at work. In a way, I use my parents as the standard, what has never been meted out to me from my parents is unacceptable from anyone else, no matter how influential or highly placed that person is.
Money is not everything
It has defined an almost 30-year career, I set the standards by which I want to be addressed, with respect, with courtesy and with consideration. I am grateful to the managers I have had who have reciprocated with exemplary conduct and to those managers who have been unable to find the ability to act with standards of courtesy and address that are somewhat old-fashioned for these times, we have parted ways.
This is what happened last March when I had had my fill of being treated disrespectfully and discourteously by my manager, I handed in my badge and phone and walked out without notice. I had had enough.
This brings me to the conversation Jay-Z had with CNN’s Van Jones recently where he said, and I quote. “It is not about money at the end of the day. Money does not equate to happiness. You’re missing the whole point. You treat people like human beings…. Treat me bad and pay me well: it’s not going to lead to happiness.” [Source] [Recording]
Then, Amara Nwankpa on Twitter responded to a tweet, with “Greatness is hardly measured in money. It's nice to know you can buy things, but find your niche, make a difference in people's lives. Move society forward. The greatest name in the world died without any children or property to his name.

It should always be about respect
Ultimately, we have to be careful that we do not slip into materialism and begin measuring achievement and impact just to the sound and presence of money because money is just supposed to be a tool.
I have given up some opportunities because the situation and circumstance in the work environment will be bad, even though it pays really good money. In some ways, it is down to my upbringing, I have enjoyed plenty and suffered lac at various times, but I am not driven by the quest for filthy lucre to the detriment of everything else.
Indeed, we can do a lot with money, but money in and of itself can be the source of great misery, it does not equate happiness, health, comfort, rest or peace.
Fundamentally, It’s about respect, not money. If you can be guided by this thinking, it is unlikely that people regardless of what they have will deign to disrespect you, I might have left my job last March vilified, a few months after the manager was asked to leave and by that, I was indirectly vindicated.