I was writing about Control last night, with Tobacco Control as the prime example of a control freak organisation.
In fact, more or less everything in life seems to entail top-down control. In families, there’s top-down control of children by parents. And when the children go to school, they get top-down control by teachers. And when they leave school and get a job, they get top-down control by managers and managing directors and assorted foremen and supervisors. And if war breaks out, and they join the army or navy or something, there’s top-down control by a whole hierarchy of ranks above them, usually with stripes on their arms indicating their exact rank in the hierarchy. And if they’re a member of a church like the Roman Catholic church, there’s top-down control by the Pope and his cardinals and bishops and priests. Wherever you go, it always seems to be top-down control.
I hate top-down control. I hate control of any kind at all. It’s the main reason why I never join any organisation, however much I admire it.
The last organisation I was a member of was the Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club, about 40 years ago. I joined it because I liked playing chess, and because I was living in Richmond, on the west side of London. I’ve never been very good at chess, but I enjoy playing it now and again. So I used to go to the club and have a few games now and then. And I got noticed and invited to join one of the teams. So I did. And we’d go all over London playing chess against other chess clubs. But I had an exhausting (and top-down controlled) day job at the time, and I soon found that there was very little pleasure in long distance evening commuting all over London after having done the daily commute to work. It was like having two jobs, with one of them unpaid. And so, one evening, when I’d just got back from work, and was supposed to be going halfway across London to play in some team event, I simply couldn’t face the prospect, and so phoned up the team captain and told him I was dropping out. And he screamed abuse. I thought he’d just accept it, and try to rustle up someone else. But, no, he was really, really angry. And I was shocked. And I realised that the Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club was another top-down controlling organisation which thought it could own me. And I never ever went back. And every time I think about joining some seemingly innocuous organisation (and, let’s face it, you can’t get much more innocuous than the Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club), my memory of that angry phone conversation comes back.
It’s why I’m not a member of F2C or Forces or any of the other smokers’ organisations, much as I admire them. I don’t want to be controlled, or let anyone think that they can control me. I don’t want to toe any party line. I don’t want to sing from any particular hymn sheet. I want to be (and I think I am) my own man. And what I write here on my blog is simply what I think, and what, quite often, I heartfeltly think. Today, at least. Tomorrow it may be something different.
But nevertheless, I realise that in conducting a war against Tobacco Control, there does need to be some sort of organisation. And I can well see why Forces and F2C has been formed. But to me they look like top down controlling organisations, even if they have no intention of being any such thing.
But over the past few months, I’ve begun to faintly discern the possibility of another sort of organisation.
And that’s because for the past few months I’ve been running the all-volunteer ISIS survey of smokers, which is now in the process of winding down (get that data entered online soon!:-)). There’s no money involved. There’s no subscription. There’s no membership cards. There are just a bunch of people (about 20 of them) who’ve volunteered to try to get some questionnaires filled in by smokers in America and Canada and several countries in Europe. And I’m the de facto “head honcho” (Nisakiman’s description of me) in it, because it was my idea. Which makes it sound like it’s yet another top-down organisation.
Except it isn’t. Because I can’t make anyone do anything. And I can’t fire them if they don’t do what they’re told. Nor can they be shot at dawn for disobeying orders. All I can do is politely ask people to do things. And maybe even just suggest that they might do something. And if they don’t do it, I have to think of some other way to get it done.
One thing I’m never going to do is to scream abuse at anyone. Because all that does is alienate people. So I’ve learned to be patient, forgiving, encouraging, praising, attentive. I’ve had to become the very opposite of a manager or a brigadier or a teacher. It’s not them who must listen to me: it is I who must listen to them. And be glad of every single thing that they do, and forgiving of every single thing they don’t do, or that they screw up.
I’ve become a sort of anti-manager. I don’t tell anyone to do anything. I just make polite suggestions. And if the suggestions get ignored, and something else gets done instead, I have to accept it and get on with it.
The amazing thing is that, despite my hands-off ‘management’, things have got done. We put together the questions for a questionnaire, and we designed a few different printable versions of it, in several different languages. And we’ve gone out to get them filled in. And some of us have been pretty successful at doing this. And some of us haven’t.
All sorts of things have cropped up. One pollster has had his partner die. And another is now engaged in full time care of an elderly mother. And some people have moved. And these are all things that nothing can be done about.
Nevertheless, it looks like we’ll (hopefully) end up with several hundred completed questionnaires, if people can manage to enter them all online. (I’ve found it takes me just 3 minutes to enter one completed questionnaire, and I’m available for people to email me or mail me their completed questionnaires for me to do it for them).
After the end of this month, I’ll start to analyse the results. And begin to put together a report. And in that process, maybe I’ll get some suggestions/advice/help, and maybe I won’t. But it won’t matter either way, because I can do it all myself if needs be.
But the experience of the last few months, dealing with people I’ve never met, and never even spoken to, from all over the world, has got me thinking that this is how a global army – or legion – of smokers might be raised. There’d be no generals. There’d be no bosses. There’d be no party line, and no hymn sheet either. There’d just be a bunch of people – all volunteers -, very loosely held together, engaged in a conversation in which everyone is equal, and everyone does their own thing, and in which polite suggestions are made as to what might be done. There would be no formal organisation at all. There wouldn’t be any top-down control. There would be no ‘control’ at all. The legion would be ‘out of control’. Advice and suggestions could come from anywhere. And actions of one sort or other would be carried out spontaneously. There’d be no point arresting the ringleaders, because there wouldn’t be any. And there’d be no stopping it.
I’ve never been in any management position of any sort. Because if I don’t like the idea of anyone controlling me, I equally don’t like the idea of me controlling anyone else.
I’d probably be a terrible manager anyway. I wouldn’t bark out orders, or bawl people out, or hire people and fire them. I’d listen attentively to the tea lady’s complaints about the weather and the price of butter when she came round with the tea trolley. I’d just suggest to her that it might be a good idea for me to have a cup of tea while I was listening, simply to help concentrate my attention on her.