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Grief, humanity and efficiency 

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I heard from a colleague who is struggling emotionally. Grief sometimes overwhelms her and then gets emotional during work. Another colleague had addressed her on this with: 'it does distract'. Now this morning I was on my way to work and so imagined that the "emotionalized colleague" would make her excuses by saying what you often hear: "Sorry, I'm only half a person at the moment.

This is what I would say to her then: 

'Half human? More human!

Working like a robot, that makes you half human, but grief is what makes a human. Maybe you mean you are less efficient. After all, efficiency is minimum time + minimum resources = maximum result. But your result to be achieved now is with your family/home and for that you put all your time and resources. So you are extremely effective, but your goal has changed. 

But isn't that changed purpose exactly what we as an organization should be facilitating? We all face grief sooner or later and we all deal with it in our own way. There should be room for that. As civil servants working within the social domain, we facilitate the social sector. Read: we offer joint a helping hand to those in need. Could it not be that what we ourselves need, how we help each other, trickles down into how we view others, how we shape policy, how we finance? How we treat each other reflects on how we treat our cooperation partners and (thus) citizens? I am convinced.

If our purpose is no longer to support the family, primarily our own, what is our purpose? As far as I am concerned, the entire raison d'etre of the civil servant (government) is captured in these words of C.S. Lewis:

"As long as we do not look beyond natural values, we must say that the sun does not shine over anything so eagerly as over a household sitting laughing at the table, or two friends talking together over a pot of beer, or a person sitting in seclusion reading a book that fascinates him; and that all economy, politics, legislation, armies and state institutions that do not perpetuate and increase these kinds of conditions are nothing but carrying water to the sea, a meaningless vanity and torment of the mind. Collective pursuits are, of course, necessary; but see here the purpose to which they are necessary." 

Finally, an unsolicited tip, given from experience: be effective. Be effective in collaboration. Effectiveness is efficiency, but without limited time and resources. It is achieving a goal by making agreements about it. It is communicating: what can colleagues expect, when will you be there or not, what will you do or not do. It is being clear. Be honest, be human. One day we will need it ourselves.


Erwin de Ruiter

"One man tries to express himself in books, another in boots; both are likely to fail." - G.K. Chesterton

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