a day at the retreat

It’s true, on Tuesday I attended a work retreat for a group to which I do not properly belong, I was an adjunct, a recombinant trail disengaged from my nucleus, I was a special guest who, it was hoped, would add to the positive dynamic of the group. It’s nice to be the special guest. It’s worrisome to be the special guest. I look on these kinds of invitation with great suspicion, even when suspicion isn’t warranted – why am I singled out for a day with a motivational speaker and a different division within my organization? Are bureaucratic plans hatching with me as an initial offering, a grub to hungry chicks? No, of course not. I’m valued as a communications consultant, and in any case they can’t shift me around or redesignate me willy-nilly. Not in the rigid lattice of the public service, they can’t. That’s the stuff of fantasy. That and unicorns.

We spent a day with a facilitator. You could call him a team-building consultant, a workplace environment expert, a motivational speaker, what have you. He stood at the front of the room and read from the Tibetan Book of the Living and the Dead, we nodded along. He gave us sheets of paper and fifteen minutes to be totally honest with ourselves on a variety of issues, on scales of 1 to 5. He said Emotional Bank Account, he said Trust Tax, he said Sharpening The Saw, he said he said. There are 7 habits. There are 13 behaviours. There are 4 quadrants (which did not surprise anyone). There are Questions Behind Questions, and the real Questions, the ones that stand in the dark with their hooded robes, are usually proactive. How can I make a difference? What can I do to effect change in my workplace environment? How can I avoid a victim mentality and choose to be effective?

He wore a pale blue Madras-style shirt and black pants that showed the outlines of his unnaturally circular kneecaps when he sat down. He had on a pair of white socks with reinforced heels and toes, and soft-looking brown sandals which he would periodically slip off in order to stand up and go the flip chart. The socks looked immensely comfortable, and I entertained myself as he spoke with imagining the pleasing feel of his socked feet against the short shag carpet. We were in a basement, and no doubt the concrete beneath the carpet felt solid and cool. A pair of decent socks is just enough of a buffer from the hardness of the floor, which you can feel all the way into your knees, to enjoy the subterranean coolness. I silently congratulated him on his choice of socks as he explained the 3 levels of maturity in the workplace.

It was not the fault of the facilitator that Tuesday was one of the worst days I’ve had in years. It was my own psyche, deranged by springtime, that was scourging with me its dissatisfactions. I felt cracked open by the talk of workplace habits and planning for the future, dropped from a great height onto a stone and left for the birds to pick over. I felt anger like a wild flare erupting in all directions, an anger that I’d kept under control over the past year, when physical pain checked every movement and thought. I don’t remember any dreams from that period. People have remarked with amazement on my good humour during most of 2007, when I was bent double and unable to walk. I used to wonder where my anger had gone. It turns out that I had stored it somewhere under pressure, and the concentration of vapid workplace language cracked the container.