The pursuit of nothing

Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral
Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral (Photo credit: teelanovela)

Friday night came around again, and once again I was busy trying to clear out my inbox, in an effort to attain the elusive “strategic” Monday morning. This is the as yet unfulfilled vision of having time to think about process structures, and figure out a cohesive plan, rather than the headless rush I’m in at the moment with collateral management agreements. It was going well, but before I knew it, it was 9 pm, so I cleared out of the empty office, got the same sandwich from M&S at the station as yesterday, and slunk off home for an evening of solitary web browsing and TV, which seemed like a big reward.

After watching Margin Call earlier in the week (a guy at work laughed at me for watching a movie about my job in my spare time), I was struck by the resemblance to a short story by Heinrich Böll, “Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral” (anecdote about how to reduce work ethic).

In the film, the main character, played by Kevin Spacey, grudgingly agrees to stay on in a job that involves taking apart the investment bank he has worked for on a multi-million-dollar salary for 36 years, with the following justification:

I’ll do it John, but not because of your little speech, but because I need the money. I’m not sure how it could possibly be after all these years, but I need the money.

It’s so common, that corrosive idea of “need” in the City, and I suffer from it too – although hopefully not to that extent.

In the short story, a Greek fisherman sits by the harbour in a deckchair, dozing in the bright sunshine, with the morning’s catch visible under the awning of his little boat. A tourist shows up and gets all enthusiastic about fishing in general when he sees the catch, and starts going on about how much money the guy could make if he was out on his boat all day. He could then buy another boat, and employ people, so that he could massively increase his sales and make loads more money. So the fisherman goes, “and what use would that be?”, and the tourist replies, “then you could sit in a deckchair and do nothing all day”.

We all do a bit of that, aspiring to something that we’ve long since forgotten the purpose of. I’m working these crazy hours because I feel guilty about how much I am paid, and want to justify it in some way. I’ve taken such a well-paid job because I want to take 6 months off and go climbing, and I want to spend all that time climbing because I want to improve, so that one day those cool routes are within my reach. Then when I’ve maybe done them, I’ll go and settle down to the domestic life I already had many years ago, before I started all this vain self-improvement.

One thought on “The pursuit of nothing

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  1. I had a strange day, too. All the sudden my windows started shaking and I look outside and there were 10-15 military helicopters in the sky. I thought we were getting invaded for a second. haha I guess they were just moving a bunch of copters from one base to another.


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