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offbeat 27 February 2015

Working in an office can be wonderful, especially if you work near someone who you like, or you are fond of, or who interests you.
It’s even better if you are in a team with that person, maybe the sort of team that gets things done together, without wasting time or trying to insert personal agendas into the job and delaying everything, even causing overtime.
Aside from the almost effortless productivity when people do their bit towards working together, there is always an opportunity for conversation.
That conversation can be the sort of pointed thing that leads to clarity, or maybe leads to a way to do things a little bit faster, so your personal ‘risk mitigation’, getting the job done and getting home on time, becomes that much more effective.

It can also be the type of conversation that involves a personal exchange, maybe a wry observation, or a comment on some or other mutual interest.
That sort of snippet almost always leads to a sense of satisfaction, sometimes a chuckle, or something of that nature. Once again the office environment becomes great.
I work from a corner of my lounge, so I don’t get to spend time exchanging chat with people made of meat and bone. Sometimes there are calls, mails or a slight exchange on Skype, but that’s about the sum of the work interaction. The upside is I never worry about leaving the office on time and the downside is that I never leave the office.
The other downside is that I am isolated most of the time, but for the rare times when a friend comes over for a cup of coffee and a bit of working space away from the office. Call it social working.
Facebook and Skype are lifelines for me. I still need to be among people made of meat and bone, and visit the pub to cope with that need, but in the meantime, when even music can’t fill the silence, I turn to virtual people, real people on the other side of a stream of bytes and kilobytes.
Yet many of these virtual people come with difficult depth.
In real life, depth is not demanding, and sometimes it is not even present. A long conversation about current issues is not a contract to believe or take action. That would be a social faux-pas.
On the web, the social norms of meat and bone can, in some ways, be discarded. Words have a binding kind of magic, and you are expected to take some kind of action. You can’t express your need for space with the subtleties of body language. Words that wall you off will be construed as sarcasm, snobbishness or aloofness. Repetitive use of those words will ultimately lead to the end of the social contract and the loss of a virtual friend.
One of the most demanding things about social media, for me, is the ever-present demand of the online petition.
Most of the virtual people I befriend or allow into my online spaces are more than meat and bone.
They have the spiritual depth of caring for those around them, and certain things spur them to take whatever action they can: cruelty to children, cruelty to animals, social and economic injustice, the environment. Aside from the difficult pictures, there are always requests to sign petitions.
My problem is that there is emotion is associating with these causes. A simple signature is not the beginning and end.
That signature goes with emotion and belief. How much emotion and belief can I absorb on behalf of others? I have my own few causes that speak to me, where I try to make a difference, but all the additional causes threaten to overwhelm me.
I know it is not unknown. There is even a special term for it: compassion fatigue.
I have to deal with it in my own way. At the moment the best I have is to try to ignore it and brush aside the ensuing sense of guilt. It’s not very effective, but it is all that I have.
There is a scary prospect though. What if compassion, and petitions, turn out to become one of the virtual fads, a meme like Grumpy Cat or ‘pay-it-forward’? What if compassion fatigue reduces the caring?
I have no solution, other than acknowledgment of the endless need.

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