I’m presently experiencing the deeply flawed human construct that is bureaucracy. It’s actually very helpful, very clarifying – because there’s no doubt that the belief that I can influence the world the way I want to with my actions is an illusion.

Here’s the current manifestation:

  • I am instructed to go to this office and have the staff there send some information to that place.
  • I arrive and fill out forms. I do them wrong, so I have to do them twice more. When the forms are sufficiently completed I am assured that my request will be completed, tout suite. I even pay to have some of this information sent.
  • After sufficient interval, say three weeks, I call the place to ascertain that the information from the office has arrived. Yes! is the answer.
  • I show up to the appointment at the place, for which the information is necessary. It is discovered that the information is, in fact, not there. BUT! I am reassured, the proverbial buck stops here and THIS WILL BE RESOLVED. I immediately assume that the promise of resolution does not include any more of my involvement.
  • Three days later I receive a call from a staff person at the place. Could I go to the office and get that information? Again? Preferably right now? Because the manager of the office can’t release the information unless I go. Could I send it overnight, via FedEx? Or perhaps I could drive the information to the place? It’s only 60 miles.
  • Argh.

    What gets me most about all this is how quickly I forget that most things in life play out in non-linear fashion. Almost nothing is straightforward – and my suffering increases the less I accept that. I just can’t expect that an action I take (ordering information, jumping through various bureaucratic hoops) will necessarily result in the outcome I desire (the information being available when needed).

    The reason bureaucracy is so maddening is because the forms, the protocols, the particular office hours and phone numbers and whatever else is an elaborate game of Let’s Pretend. It’s an attempt to control processes that probably can’t be completely managed, because once you get lots of people and details together, shit’s gonna fall apart. Why wouldn’t it take more than one try to get the information to the place? Why wouldn’t everyone involved make mistakes or act negligently or start menstruating or encounter a storm or a hurricane or a traffic jam? The idea that cause and effect are linear is the delusion.

    I take great comfort in how Buddha explains this, so calmly, so quietly, with his Four Noble Truths.

  • Life includes suffering (frustration, angst, obstacles, pain).
  • The origin of suffering is attachment to outcomes, things, people.
  • Suffering can end.
  • Suffering ends when we practice the middle way, balancing between self-gratification and self-mortification.

To me, balance in my current situation means letting go of my righteous outrage (it shouldn’t be this way!) while also continuing to press toward my goal (getting the damn information to the right people in the hopes I can get some new insight from them).

‘Course,it’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. But who said life would be easy, anyway?



About Kate

Things are weird in the wide world -- and like everyone else, most days I'm used to it. But to shake things up for myself, I like to notice and write about stuff that strikes me as both beautiful and strange, fascinating and repulsive, sweet and sour -- like how the steamy, stinky air that comes up from the BART vents at 16th Street Mission reminds me of being twenty-two, apparently immortal, and in love.

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