Monday, May 10, 2010

Day 131 - Rolling Papers

          I went to the Vet to pick up Bud’s ashes today. I suggested to my wife that we should spread them over the water at Lake Eola in downtown Orlando because Bud always enjoyed our outings there. Bud was a people person’s dog. He loved to engage strangers. He loved nothing so much as leaning against someone’s hip while they scratched him behind his ears. You would swear he was purring like a cat.
There was always plenty of opportunity to indulge him in this at Lake Eola on a Sunday afternoon. Hundreds of people came out to the park to walk or run the trail around the lake, to toss Frisbees and all manner of balls, to turn their kids loose in the playground, visit vendors set up along the walkways selling arts and crafts and food, and walk their dogs. Bud was in his element.
Having two greyhounds, Bud and Sandy, was a great conversation starter. I was always amazed how many people came up to us to ask about the dogs and to touch them. Everyone is curious about greyhounds. For one thing, you don’t see very many of them in the flesh. For another, the dogs’ calm demeanor and natural sociability is so contrary to the image people have of them as hyper and aggressive. In most pictures one sees of greyhounds, they are flying around race tracks in silks and muzzles. The reality is that they sleep 16 to 18 hours a day, and about half the time they are awake they are looking for another place to take a nap.
My wife wants to keep Bud’s ashes next to Ani’s. Alive they were similar looking dogs, both big fawn colored hounds with white feet. Now they reside in identical enameled tins. They even smell the same. I guess I thought there ought to be some residual evidence of Bud’s foul breath wafting from his cremains, but such is not the case. I’m considering sticking a clove of garlic down amongst his ashes, and letting it bloom into the full flower of Bud’s fetid essence. It would be a fitting tribute, if a trifle disturbing.
* * * * *
When I realized that I was going to have to live with Rod as my boss, I started looking for ways to mitigate the more troubling aspects of his supervision. I decided I needed to manage him in much the same way I had tried to manage Henry. In many ways Henry was much smarter than Rod, but he was also less subtle and entirely more predictable. Rod was not exactly an enigma, but he was not easily distracted and he had few of Henry’s obvious vices. Rod played his cards close to the chest, and he did not reveal his tells. I decided I needed to amp up my own deviousness.
For this I turned to something I found on the Internet called Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP. Neuro-linguistic programming was developed back in the early seventies by a couple of guys who thought they could exploit the links between language and habitual thought patterns to help people modify their behavior and lead more satisfying, productive lives. They promoted NLP as a kind of breakthrough in psychotherapy. The process has an appealing logic to it, but it is not based on much credible science nor did its developers have real credentials beyond linguistics. For these reasons NLP has had only limited acceptance In legitimate psychological circles, and is viewed by some with outright disdain.
In the fields of self-help, life-coaching, hypnotherapy, and business management however, NLP has been embraced with considerable enthusiasm. This is especially true in the fringe domains of get-rich-quick schemes and other largely predatory programmed paths to purported success and happiness. I found it, for instance, by Googling the phrase “mind control techniques.”
After an afternoon following links and scanning a hodgepodge of claims, I had seen everything from ways to rid one’s mind of psychological blocks to the accumulation of wealth to techniques for turning otherwise resistant women into willing sex slaves. Many of these claims are made for neuro-linguistic programming. It is seen by many as a way to overcome ingrained counter-productive attitudes and behaviors within one’s own psychological make-up, and in fact it may have some legitimacy in this regard. It is seen by others as the key to changing attitudes and behaviors in others in order to get them to do things they would not do on their own—things generally calculated to enrich the practitioner in various ways, most of them less than altruistic, many of them self-serving, some of them nefarious. In other words NLP seems to me to be a tool for psychological manipulation that is touted by con-men, bullshit artists, and perverts.
My goal was the opposite of this. My goal was to prevent getting screwed by yet another over-reaching, self-serving rat bastard bent on furthering his own aspirations at the expense of mine. In this light, purchasing an NLP training regimen from one of the many enlightened purveyors on the internet seemed counterintuitive. I would be trying to gain an advantage over Rod by giving up the advantage, along with some hard-earned cash, to a WWW dot self-serving rat bastard. I decided to learn as much as I could for free, and begin a series of experiments on Rod to see if I could at least get him to relent in some of his more troublesome demands.
I settled on a fairly simple technique called mirroring. Mirroring consists of parroting back phrases and mimicking gestures of a person you are conversing with. It is supposed to build rapport, to convince the person you are mirroring that you are in sync with them, that you are of a like mind and disposition, and that they should trust you and believe what you say.
My feeling was that Rod somehow saw me as a threat because we had in effect competed for the position he ended up getting. As long as he felt threatened by me, however misplaced his feelings in that regard might be, I was never going to make any headway in my own career. Mirroring seemed a fairly innocuous way to accomplish a level of trust that would at least make it possible for me to do my job with a minimum of hassle from Rod.
I wish I could say that this worked for me, but it did not. It may have worked in time, but I lost my nerve somewhere in the middle of the attempt. It was going swimmingly at first. Rod had called me to his office to discuss some reports he wanted done to help Quentin make a reasonable case to a bunch of consultants who were supposed to be shepherding us through the latest reorganization. This involved rolling up separate revised forecasts from each division. Rod wanted to make sure that everything came through him so he could review it all and validate the assumptions. That’s what he said at any rate, but I understood this would also give him the opportunity to imprint everything with his own particular style so he could garner more credit than he deserved. I was sure that the final version presented to Quentin would be painted with the rose, mauve, and lavender hues that Rod favored so much in his own reports.
While Rod was going on at great length about how he wanted me to proceed, I began to cautiously mimic his gestures and mannerisms. I assumed his posture in my chair. I positioned my hands on my lap just as Rod had done his on his desk. From that point on, every move he made I duplicated a fraction of a second later. Rod had a peculiar way of blinking his eyes when he was trying to make a point. He would squeeze his eyelids together as if he were trying to press the moisture out from between them. It was an unnatural expression that he repeated so often that I had begun to think of it as a facial tick. I mimicked that too, to the point where I began to feel foolish. The whole experience felt forced and unnatural to me, as if I were trying to become someone else. I guess our own mannerisms and expressions are so natural to us that when we try to adopt someone else’s we feel that we are shedding our own skin to put on one that doesn’t fit or suit us very well.
When Rod began to smile, literally beaming at me, I decided that he was onto me. It could easily have been that the mirroring process was working, and that Rod was developing a genuine liking for me because I was finally exhibiting the good sense to become just like him. Instead, I decided that he knew all about neuro-linguistic programming and mirroring and that he had just then realized that I was trying to manipulate him. I abandoned the experiment in a panic, and never tried it again.
Unnerved by my fears, I picked up a report that I had brought with me to the meeting and began rolling it into a tube. This is my own nervous habit, and one which someone trying to mirror me would surely adopt. Rod did not. He wasn’t trying to mirror me back at least.
“Please don’t do that,” he said.
“What?” At first I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Don’t roll up those papers like that,” he said. “I hate that.”
“They’ll never lay flat again. I just don’t like it. Please don’t do it again.”
“But they’re mine,” I said. “I brought them. I’m taking them back to my office when we’re finished. What difference could it possibly make to you if they don’t lay exactly flat?”
Rod leaned forward, squeezed his eyes closed and opened them again to reveal a prodigious double skunk-eye. “It makes a difference to me,” he said, “and I don’t want you to do it anymore.”

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