Uppity People vs. Cowed People
At work the other day, I came across a bulletin board on which someone had posted the following “Successful People vs. Unsuccessful People” poster:
Looking for its source, I eventually found the author, MaryEllen Tribby. It’s notable that MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant. Within American business cultures, success is often equated with usefulness to the employer, with activity that generates a reward from corporate executives. But we are not born employees. We are born as people, and some traits and needs of human beings as people are not the same as the traits and needs of employees.
I’m reminded of my child’s homework, for which a teacher posed the question “what qualities does a business look out for in an employee?” My child received points off for writing “is able to subsist on a diet of thin paste”… not because the answer was wrong, but because the answer wasn’t “positive” or “helpful.” Positive toward what end? Helpful to whom?
How might we rethink this motivational graphic away from the imperatives of a corporation and toward the experience of people? Here’s my take, in which the first choice is to move away from focusing on outcomes for “successful” and “unsuccessful” employees and to focus instead on two different orientations for people: “uppity” and “cowed”. Unlike “success” and “unsuccess” as outcomes that are wholly in the hands of people themselves if they just lift their chins and get with the program, I’m thinking about “uppity” and “cowed” orientations that are, at least in part, the result of empowerment or oppression in systems of justice or injustice:
Props to Finley Peter Dunne, the original author of the fifth admonishment from the bottom for the uppity.
What do you think?