SCOT BELLAVIA: People in Suits and Human Nature

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During my quarter-life crisis, a phase from which I still carry residual angst, I developed a hatred of authority. Professors and employers alike were a straw man amalgam of a group I call “people in suits.” Their neckties and impractical socks served to keep up appearances as they served their bosses. As suits are a cultural standard, I reasoned that their authority, too, was not absolute.

They were forever exacting their position over me, to disguise the thin ice on which they themselves sat. They worked to justify their job to their supervisors, and their supervisors worked to justify their job to their supervisor. That’s how I saw it in my mind, anyway.

Simply put, I didn’t want to be told what to do. Though, to my college-age ears that explanation would have sounded cliché, it’s exactly why I hated some of my teachers and bosses, at least, hated the role they represented. This is the most basic thought a sinful person has; desiring independence, we hate rules.

Certainly, hating authority was wrong, but I was onto something in my theorizing “people in suits” – the existence of a litigious mindset in the workplace. I saw employees having an overconcern about covering their own hide.

With their tail tucked between their legs, they piously reversed the well-known advice that it’s “better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” They were hesitant to take a step in any direction for fear of what their boss would say, though that boss would have to ask their boss whether the first employee could take a step.

Having worked in various local government departments since I graduated, I thought this was what people meant by “red tape” and “bureaucracy.” But I now believe it’s an attitude prevalent in many workplaces; government work simply has the potential for acts of independence to be seen more publicly.

I hate this reality even more than I hated authority figures, though I have the same scapegoat for my frustration. There have been times at work where I want to do something, something of which I’m capable and could finish quickly. Yet, the standard procedure requires that someone from another department handle it. I feel increasingly muzzled by “no” after “no,” like I’m becoming the docile employee my bosses are.

While I still try to fight the restrictions, though that may only be internal rationalizations that, spoken out loud, would be incoherent, I realized that our litigious society is evidence for the biblical claim of human nature.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Jeremiah 17:9 NLT

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8 NASB

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV

Even one instance of malintent debunks the myth that people are inherently good. How much more so does our collective behavior in the workplace, working so we don’t get in trouble, evince the badness of mankind?

– Scot Bellavia