Context, Consensus and Comfort

The Real Work – Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

I was prompted to write this brief post by a blogpost by a chap called Neil Morrison, an award-winning HR professional ( I point out the gong merely to highlight Neil’s qualification to talk on HR matters versus my lack of accreditation). I take no issue with the sentiment behind Neil’s post. However, I did want to write more than 140 characters on the subject to get my thoughts down somewhere because, like all good bloggers, Neil made me think hard about the world before us. As I understood it, the main thrust of Neil’s post is that what had the potential to be a seismic shock to the fluffy world of HR has itself been subverted by cosiness. I don’t know why Social HR simply had to be edgy, argumentative, difficult, provoking and upsetting, but it strikes me that these are the sort of problems within organisations that HR are so adept at defusing. This may explain why Neil now sees Social HR as cosy, warm, consensual, boring and predictable. Having watched the machinations of the profession over the past 12 months, a couple of things are clear (to me at least).
1. The problems that the HR profession faces and has faced are not of earth-shattering consequence
2. A consensus has quickly formed because the issues were readily identifiable and a solution set was quickly arrived at
There is clearly much work yet to be done but like an ageing punk rocker, the future will possibly be more about advertising Anchor butter than raging against the dying of the light. Even the most visceral of anarchists can end up in chintzy comfort when there are no more battles left to fight. In our prehistoric days, moving as quickly as possible from difficult to cosy and warm was an imperative of survival. Why should life now be any different, especially if it is in the context of such an artifical construct as work? After all, does not flowing water take the quickest, easiest path?

Postscript: The comments thread on the blogpost to which I referred quickly degenerated into an unedifying spectacle of mud-slinging and name-calling that brought to mind Jorge Luis Borges’ comment about the Falklands conflict that compared it to two bald men fighting over a comb. Just as when spats and infighting in the scientific community cloud and obscure genuinely revelatory findings or hypotheses, a descent into petty squabbles advances the cause of the HR profession not one jot.

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