The Tyranny Of Excessive Choices

Depression is the common cold of mental illness. In an earlier age, our great-grandparents suffered from anxiety as they watched a world order collapse under the weight of its own decay.

Columns From: 7/1/2001 Modern Machine Shop,

Depression is the common cold of mental illness. In an earlier age, our great-grandparents suffered from anxiety as they watched a world order collapse under the weight of its own decay. Empires collapsed, and World War I and its frenzied aftermath enveloped a world struggling to give birth to a fledgling transformation of society. Democracy and totalitarianism were the hybrid twins born of an unholy union of old monarchial prerogatives and burgeoning bourgeois claims. Old values crumbled, and the times were fraught with angst and apprehension. It was the Age of Anxiety. Fretfulness pervaded the social order, becoming the dominant theme of religion, politics, literature, films and the arts.

In the penultimate age our grandparents suffered from ennui, world-weariness, tedium and monotony. The downside of society's transformation reached into the belly of the hungry poor and sucked out its spirit. Republics and democracies floundered before the juggernaut of ideologies gone berserk with power mongering and unspeakable horrors . . . all in the name of progress and self-preservation. Inhumanity made most aware of the terrible consequences of placing confidence in ideologies and technologies. It was the Age of Restlessness. And dissatisfaction pervaded the social order, becoming the dominant theme of that period's religion, politics, literature, films and the arts.

Our parents suffered from uncontrollability and helplessness. Their values were stable and their ideals were lofty. The struggle by individuals and groups never before enfranchised to gain civil and personal rights exposed the underbelly of a society deeply stratified and segregated. It was the Age of Unresolved Anger. Pent-up anger came in the wake of helplessness and failure. The unrealized attempts to gain clout and influence pervaded the social order and became the dominant theme of that period's religion, politics, literature, films and art.

In our own age we seem to suffer from excessive choices. Bombarded with preferences and options, we are awed and perplexed by the variety of alternatives available to us for acting out our lives. Bewilderment and disorientation have confused so many of us that we haphazardly get through the work week by the sheer force of robotic determination. And this feeling of confusion and disorientation has a direct impact on productivity in the workshop. Schedules are put aside, personal interaction is shunted, absenteeism and tardiness become normative, and mood swings and pouting set the tone for a miserable workplace that neither employees nor customers enjoy.

Managers must have their fingers on the pulse of the emotional state of their shops. They can do much to facilitate the climate simply by "catching people doing things right." Streamlining the attitude of the workplace will surely make life in the company much more bearable for everyone.

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