*pause for visceral response*
The list of potential Jeopardy! questions to which “What is a Coworker?” would make you hundreds of dollars richer* is endless:
Someone who might sneak a bite of the cured meat stick you left in the communal fridge.
Nobody is more likely to make you seethe silently than THIS skyscraper cohabitant.
You don’t give a shit about her daughter’s dance class, but you DO like chocolate-covered almonds.
(I’ll take ‘Characters Who Make You Contemplate Seppuku‘ for $600, Alex!)
[*Seriously, what’s the deal with the clue values on Jeopardy? I’m no game-show afficionado, but I do know that we are a society who has rewarded the great minds appearing on that program in arguably equal measure with those who compete to ingest really gross things, or to ingest really gross things then do stuff specifically designed to make them barf (both links SFW, somehow). You’d think we could pony up enough cash to at least make it seem like we value encycopledic knowledge more than the ability to eat horse rectum. I’ve got $20, or at least a sandwich or something, to donate to the cause – where do I sign up??]
Ah, the Coworker… First off, let me be clear that the uppercase ‘C’ I’m using to introduce the subject of today’s invective is not a sign that I’m all-of-a-sudden eschewing grammatical convention. (But can you imagine the adrenaline rush if I did? Oh man!) This bit of creative licence is owed to the fact that I’m not here to deal with the literal definition of the word. Sure, ‘coworker’: I work here, you work here – congratufuckinglations to us all.
I’m more interested in dealing with the construct of the capital-C Coworker (which I just invented): that intangible mechanism by which the benign literality of the person sharing your place of employment becomes something carrying much more connotative weight. Something universal: the distinction between ‘coworker’ as a common noun, and ‘Coworker’ as the experience associated with the presence of those common nouns in your weekday world.
Assuming I haven’t lost you yet (who am I kidding? – you stopped reading two weeks ago), walk with me as we deconstruct what it is, specifically, that distinguishes the Coworker from any other archetype appearing in your life.
1. You could be totally different people.
Sure, there will be those with whom you actually share outside interests, but I think by now you know that those aren’t the people to whom I’m devoting this post. The Coworker, as a bearer of curiosity, vexation or worse, is probably someone with whom you don’t have a lot in common aside from the fact that you both die a little every time the hole puncher rains confetti on you.
The human animal is a complex one: if you were to construct an identity from scratch, there are an almost infinite number of potential talents and interests to choose from in so doing. So what’s to suggest that just because you and I both happen to be passably good at working the same photocopier, we should otherwise have anything in common? Let’s say, for argument’s sake, we were to draw a Venn Diagram representing the greatest passions held by you and two coworkers (common noun, in this case), or mutually held between the three of you. It might end up looking something like this**:
Yes, I had some fun with this randomly discovered webpage. Hope you do too.
[**Damn you, Spellcheck, for not recognizing the sanctity of Harambe. As if we haven’t all been through enough heartbreak.]
The fact that you were all deemed worthy of employment by ABC Inc. doesn’t mean that you, Chuck and Debra would otherwise have much to talk about, and there aren’t many other places in your life where you’re surrounded by so many such people. The situation is especially unique when you consider that…
2. You spend way too much time with them.
You spend more time with these people than you do with your friends – you know, those kindred spirits to whom you’re eternally bound by your shared love of LARPing. You spend more time with your coworkers than you do pursuing things that you actually care about. In some cases, you might even spend more time with them than you do with your immediate family.
If we are to preserve our sanity in these Orwellian confines, this is an inconvenient truth that must be willfully ignored.
3. Practically speaking, you are forced to put up with them.
If you were at a party and met a close-talker who way overlaughed at his own jokes, you would make tracks for the next room (and not just to inhale the entire spinach-artichoke dip that’s sitting there, blissfully unaware of its impending doom). If someone came into your home and regaled you with details of their plantar warts, you probably wouldn’t invite them back. And if your friend willingly threw you under the bus in order to impress someone, you’d probably take that person into a dark alley and serve up a cold plate of justice.
And yet, when you observe this sort of behavior in the workplace, you just sit there – every muscle in your body clenched, for fear that if you relax even one of them, you’ll go full Tasmanian Devil before jumping out the window to your welcome demise. And then you come back the next day for more.
Note, of course, the use of “practically speaking” as an important qualifier: sure, you could decide to walk around the office slapping people in the face with a glove, but you’d probably only do so if you were prepared to live under an overpass. Indeed, we go to great lengths to ensure our ability to pay the bills. (But, man, if there’s ever an average Thursday morning where the breaking news hits that someone has figured out how to do away with the concept of money, I’m gathering all the popcorn I can find and settling in for one hell of a spectacle. Think of all the throat punches that would be delivered in your workplace alone!)
So it is that, unless you somehow earn a living by working 10 hours a week among friends that you’re not afraid to dropkick, you’ll probably agree: the Coworker is more than just a coworker. An inevitable adornment to your office surroundings, sandwiched between the bland industrial carpeting and sterile suspended ceiling. Endless source of rage, indifference and everything in between.
Don’t forget to tell your coworkers, today, how deeply you tolerate them.