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Just Follow the Procedure

“For it is not enough to have a good mind, rather the main thing is to apply it well. The greatest souls are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues, and those who go forward only very slowly can progress much further if they always keep to the right path, than those who run and wander off it.”

René Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637)

Carl works for a large company. The building he works in is three stories tall, shaped like a rectangle, and could fit on a football field. It is made of brick. It looks very professional. His company manufactures a product he is told people need. When he was hired, Carl had to read a manual and sign an agreement stating he would not talk about the company while being employed by said company or after release of said company. This means what you are reading is a breach of “said” company privacy. If you wish to continue, you assume the risk.

Carl has worked for the company for five years. He has received only one salary increase, and this was reduced to offset an increase in his health care benefits and subsequent pension compensation. Carl is fine with that. He wants to retire early and have good health. He does not drink. He does not smoke. Carl signed a contract stating he would not smoke or drink. The company sometimes tests Carl to make sure he is holding up his end of the bargain. Carl does not like the testing. He finds it to be intrusive, but Carl is forty-two. He is willing to bend.

Carl does not have an office. Instead, and to save the company money, he works in a box called a cubicle. The cubicle changes colors occasionally. This happens on the weekends. Carl goes home, comes back, and the cubicle is a different color. This always amazes Carl. He is allowed to hang pictures on the walls of the cubicle and is amazed to find they are all in the same place when he returns and finds the color of the walls have been changed. He asked about it once.

“Why do they do that?”

“Do what?”

“Change the colors?”

“I don’t know. They just do.”

“Yeah, but they always get my pictures right.”

“They do?”

“Yes.”

“Huh, I never noticed. You’re a smart guy, Carl.

Anyway, as I was saying…”

The company has a board of directors. They live in large homes that all look the same. They live in places far away and visit the company to pat people on the backs. When they do come, they pat Carl on the back very hard. They tell him he is doing a fine job. Carl smiles. He tries to talk to them. They try to listen but are always pulled away because there is someone else who is just as important as he who wants to meet the back patters. When this happens, Carl smiles. He understands they are busy people and returns to work. His output usually goes up after this confidence boost. He has noticed he gets a bonus every time the board of directors comes around. He is thankful for the bonus. It helps him at home.

Carl is married with two kids, a boy and a girl. He feels blessed. His wife is a teacher. His children are good students; they attend special classes at the school where his wife teaches, and both have high GPAs. The boy wants to be a detective. He takes advanced math courses. The girl wants to be a nurse. She takes advanced science courses. The boy is always helping the principal solve cold cases such as, “Who stole the lunch money last March?” and “Who is using cell phones in class?” The girl is always watching over the children at recess and making sure the younger students are safe. This makes Carl and his wife happy. They see their children being beneficial to society one day.

Carl bought the family a new car with his last bonus. The bonus was enough for a down payment. Before the car could be driven, Carl’s wife slapped a sticker on the rear that read, “My children are honor students at…” It made Carl proud. His children were doing very well. He gave each one a hug. The salesman took a picture of the family with their new automobile. Carl made a copy and placed it on the wall of his cubicle. He often looks at it while he is working. It makes him happy, and he remembers his reason for working.

Carl is part of a special group. He operates under a procedure. This came about after a long weekend. He sat down in his recently color-changed cubicle and discovered an envelope. The envelope had Carl’s name on it and printed on the envelope were the words: important special memo. Carl began to open the memo, but he was interrupted.

“Oh, you got one, too?”

“One what?”

“A memo. That guy over there got one, too.”

“What guy?”

“That guy.”

Carl raised up over his cubicle wall. He saw a fellow employee he did not recognize.

“Who is that?”

“I don’t know. I think he’s new.”

Carl lowered back down. He started to think. He was left alone to think. He took a look over his shoulders. Then, slowly and carefully, he opened the envelope. His eyes grew wide.

Carl must attend meetings. They are about his special status. He is constantly reminded at these meetings about how important he is to the company. He is told that, without his efforts, the company would not be where it is financially. He is told that he is part of something greater than himself and that everyone is indebted to him.

His office manager hands him progress reports to prove it. The progress reports are printed on blue and yellow paper. She is pleased with Carl’s progress and gives him notes on how to improve efficiency. At these meetings, she hands out tickets to free movies for doing such a good job. At first, Carl wanted to know why he was getting the tickets. He wanted to know why he was considered special. He had received no special training and, in his opinion, was doing nothing different than he was on the day when he had started working for the company. This questioning got Carl into trouble with the other employees who are considered special. During this period of doubt, Carl was reminded by his office manger to follow the procedure. This was done with a finger on the table and a big speech about the importance of everyone being on the same page. Carl was told, during the big speech, not to worry. He was told to just keep doing what he was currently doing, and everything would turn out fine. He was reminded of his family and what they would think if he did not do his job. This made Carl feel guilty. He would listen to the speech and then turn to face down the scrutinizing stares of all the other special employees. This always made him lower his head and apologize. At these times, he would report that he was ashamed for offending the group and mistrusting the company. “The company has been good to me,” he would say. “They are good to all of us. They provide us with a good work space and a solid paycheck to help our families, and,” he would pause and say confidently, “the benefits, you cannot beat the benefits.” This acknowledgement would make the office manager smile. It would make the others satisfied. Now, Carl attends the meetings and never questions for what he is special.

Around the office, Carl is constantly pressured to discuss his special status. He wants to talk about it but does not. He is afraid if he does he will jeopardize the company. He tells this to the employees who ask. This causes them to be concerned.

“What do you know that we don’t, Carl?”

“Nothing.”

“Then why all the secrecy?”

“Because I have been told not to say anything.”

“But you are saying something. You are telling us not to worry. If there is nothing to worry about, Carl, then why are you being so tight-lipped about it?”

“I don’t know. I am supposed to be. That is all I know.”

“You don’t know?”

“Yes.”

“Then why are you going along with this ‘special status’ thing anyway? Don’t you wonder if you should be?”

“No.”

“Well, I’m no genius, Carl, but it sounds as if you should. I am concerned, Carl. I am concerned not only for us but also for you. How many more people around here are considered special status?”

“I cannot say.”

“You mean you cannot say because you have been told not to, or because you do not know?”

“Both.”

“Yes. See, Carl? That is what I’m talking about.”

Carl lives in a nice suburb. All his neighbors have good jobs so they can afford nice things and their children can attend better schools. Carl can afford nice things and appreciates nice things. His house was designed to be extra nice. It looks the same as those of his neighbors. It is a single-story square with a roof. Also, Carl is part of a homeowners’ association, a system designed for maximum efficiency, security, and aesthetic value. The rules are strict. Carl cannot do certain things to his property, but he is happy with the benefits.

Carl hates mowing the lawn. A part of his homeowner’s fees pays for lawn maintenance. He has been told the rates are inflated, but if they are, Carl does not mind. The extra time allows him to relax with his family. He enjoys cooking out and watching television. Carl does this almost every night when the weather is nice. If he had to mow his own lawn, like his less fortunate friends who are not part of a homeowners’ association, he could not enjoy his time off. He is reminded of this when his neighbors come over and play cards. They talk about their jobs, and Carl cooks steaks. These cookouts he enjoys immensely, and yard maintenance would get in the way.

Nobody in Carl’s suburb knows about his special status, not even his wife. All his neighbors are envious. They wish their bosses would give them free tickets to movies. Carl laughs and sighs when he hears them complain. He enjoys the perks of being special. Carl’s wife tells him to thank his office manager for being so kind. Carl does, at the meetings.

Carl has a special box on his desk. It was given to him when he received his special status. It has a sign on it that reads: Open special box in case of emergency. At first, Carl wondered what was in the box. Now, he does not. He figures it is there for a reason and never asks. His co-workers are not as convinced.

“So, Carl, did you find out what was in that thing?”

“What thing?”

“The box.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s none of my business. It belongs to the company.”

“None of your business? None of your… Carl, are you okay? There is a special box on your desk, and you don’t know what is in it?”

“You are correct.”

“And you’re not the least bit curious? I mean, I don’t have a box. He doesn’t have a box. She doesn’t. He doesn’t. The guys over there in the purple cubicles don’t.”

“And you and they are not special either, are you?”

“Well, no, Carl, I guess we’re not, but we are your friends and we…”

“No, you are not my friends. You are nosey. You ask too many questions and have no faith in the company.

So, please leave me alone so I can do my job. You can thank me later.”

On Carl’s desk are a computer and telephone. The computer and telephone belong to the company. Carl uses them to complete his work. He is not allowed to use the computer or telephone for personal use of any kind. The computer is closely monitored from an undisclosed location. Carl knows this. Everybody he works with knows this. You cannot work for his company unless you agree to specific terms of use. Carl does not mind this.

There are computers and phones in the break room he can use for personal use. He must log in each time he uses either the computer or telephone. He is told this is for security. He is reminded in memos that: Cell phone use on company property is forbidden. Carl can respect the discretion. He has special status which is based entirely upon the premise.

Sometimes, while working at his desk, Carl gets a message on his computer screen that flashes: incoming call. The message appears and locks the screen. When this happens, Carl stops what he is doing and waits for a blue light on his phone to blink. When it does, he answers and hears the familiar voice of someone named Amy who is calling from the undisclosed location. Amy calls twice a week to see how Carl is doing. She is always pleasant and very cheerful. Carl likes Amy. She sounds very nice. He suspects she is young and attractive and someone he would enjoy having over to his house for dinner, if only he could. Employee fraternization beyond the company is strictly prohibited. Carl remembers this policy and is very professional when he talks to Amy. She tells him he is doing a good job and gives him tips on how he can do better. Carl writes down the tips and hangs up the phone.

Carl does not know what product his company makes. All he knows is that it deals with computers. When he was hired, he was told his job would be making sure order numbers were routed correctly. He was also told that this was all he could know about his job for proprietary reasons. Carl had to agree to never divulge company secrets. He had to sign a document stating he would be liable for any breach of his contract. It was the last document he signed before being allowed onto the company floor. That special, first day was well remembered. He was escorted around the office by a very nice woman named Bev. Bev told Carl she had been with the company for ten years. She led Carl around and pointed out the specifics of his work environment.

“And this, Carl, is where you will be working, Section C. The work spaces are coded for efficiency. Efficiency is everything, Carl. Everyone must be on the same page if this machine is going to run like clockwork. Just do what you’re supposed to do, and you will be fine. If you have any questions, consult your Employee Procedure Manual.”

Carl has not seen Bev since that first day. He wonders how she is doing. Carl remembers having the feeling that he wanted to be as successful as Bev. She had an air of confidence about her, and the employees noticed her when she walked by their cubicles. He has wanted to thank her for the words of encouragement. He brought it up at a meeting once. He asked if anyone had heard from Bev. Nobody had. To his surprise, nobody even knew who she was. His boss said she would check and get back to him. Carl is still waiting for an answer.

Carl has a very long contractual agreement with the company. He never read the contractual agreement before he signed it. Carl was only told the main details and shown where to sign. Then he was given a good pat on the back and welcomed to the company.

Carl should have had a lawyer read the contract before he signed it, but he did not. After all, Carl needed a job. He is the father of two, loving children and the husband of a happy wife; they depend on him to bring home the bacon. However, he does not know that the routing numbers he keys into his computer are not for typical orders, or that the color-coded cubicles are used to decoy his work environment. Carl does not know the little box on his desk contains a key, and that the key unlocks an escape hatch beneath his chair, or that Amy calls to make sure he is still psychologically sound. No, Carl knows none of this.

He stopped asking questions, and as long as he does not ask any questions, he will never know that since being employed by the company he has helped to either maim, injure, disembowel, exterminate, mutilate, kill, incinerate, vegetate, or annihilate over 233,593,002 people. He will never know this, as long as he continues to follow the procedure.


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