Working for Your Soul

This is my very favorite at-work freakout story.

An office worker, fearing anthrax contamination, pulled on a pair of rubber gloves to protect him as he opened a stack of mail. As we worked, he was horrified to discover white powder scattered on his pants. He leapt up, called security, and the usual evacuation, sample collection, and general hysteria followed. After an interminable wait, the results returned from the lab: The suspicious white powder was� residue from the rubber gloves.

This biting of ourselves in the behind is entirely understandable in a world in which metal detectors are stationed at the entrance gates to Disneyland. First it was psychos bursting into boardrooms with mail bombs and guns; then it was students mowing down their own classmates and holding teachers hostage; and now it’s fuel-heavy 747s bearing down on office buildings. It is small comfort that apparently the only thing between you and a hole in a ground is your swipe card: now you can die in the middle of the morning coffee break.

You don’t have to remind me that some occupations are more dangerous than others, not when I report for work every day beneath the very skies in which the Challenger exploded and drive home past a building entitled the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Facility. Kennedy Space Center forces observers four miles from the launchpad whenever the shuttle goes up, but to the astronauts awaiting the very loud commute to the office, the policemen guarding the gates of the complex, and the servicemen forming an invisible but formidable perimeter around the Cape, these are days in which the tension surrounding a launch goes far beyond simply hoping that the rain holds off.

In my very daring work as an educator in a one-story, non-rocket propelled building, I sometimes watch the tourists go by with their carefully searched bags and temporary security tags and wonder how many of us have faced the real dangers at our jobs, threats that some fortunate Americans woke up to as the terrible dust of September 11th settled�and it hasn’t a thing to do with box cutters or anthrax spores or metal detectors.

How is your work, your workplace endangering you? Not your life�you. Your soul, your gut, your morals, your happiness. Your dreams. Your talents, your aspirations, your health, your sensibilities. Is your job eroding them, cementing them, or compensating for them? Has it made you blind or thrown light in dark corners? Does it ground you or bind you fast?

A friend of mine once quit an upwardly mobile job at a national company because, she said, the atmosphere was poisoning her. The very air, the composite molecules of the parking spaces and the lighting fixtures, were rife with employee gossip, corporate backbiting and sucked-in rage. Her spirit was not safe there, and she moved happily into a demotion and a paycut at the local bookstore. She refused to manufacture her own anthrax scare, and she is brave. She knew this wasn’t about saving her skin�she was running for her soul.