Friday, April 18, 2008

Going Through the Motions

(News-Herald, April 18) What could be worse than Going Through the Motions?

Sometimes students want to GTTM. The favorite question to justify GTTM without becoming involved is “When will we ever use this in real life?”

The sarcastic teacher would like to answer, “What? You mean, when will you ever have to use your brain in life?” Unfortunately, the sarcastic teacher knows that there are many opportunities for people to go through life without using their brains or becoming involved.

People who focus on GTTM usually become focused on what minimum motions they need to go through, and hitting that minimum estimate is a skill in itself. A bad under-estimator would be the student who observes other students writing and thinks that the minimum requirement is to wiggle your pen around while making random marks on paper. Even teachers who are themselves going through the motions may require more than that, but not by much. I suspect many students can tell a story about the time they inserted the words to, say, the Pledge of Allegiance in the middle of an essay, and the teacher never noticed.

People in any organization hate bad leadership, but often what we call bad leadership is really no leadership at all, and no leadership at all most commonly takes the form of going through the motions. The non-leader isn’t involved, isn’t engaged, and never has a large goal in mind other than simply Going Through The Motions. The minimum required motions are generally defined as enough “to avoid breaking the law, being sued, or receiving angry phone calls.”

It’s not just a matter of picking a low number of motions. GTTM is easy, but becoming really involved or really trying to get the job done often requires effort. Faced with the actual goals they should achieve, the GTTM person replies with some version of the age-old complaint, “But that would be haaaarrrd!”

If we’re going to do more than go through the motions, if we’re going to say what we mean and then behave as if we really mean it, life will often call our bluff and require us to step up. This is where all those clichés about rubber meeting the road and giving 100% and putting and/or shutting up could mean something (spouting clichés and platitudes is a great way to GTTM).

GTTM is also easy because we don’t have to bring our own compass. We just follow someone else’s directions, do as we’re told, copy and paste from someone else’s text. Because having to think things through yourself is haaarrrrrd. The enemy of the right thing is not the wrong thing—it’s the easy thing.

This issue distinguishes different types of malcontents. I disagree with most everything Ray Beichner has ever said publicly, but I totally respect that he doesn’t simply go through the motions. On the other hand, some of our local Grumpy People appear to fire off letters and lawsuits as a way to demand that others stop thinking and get back to GTTM. Dealing with people who are thinking and doing and actively trying to do what it takes to pursue goals—well, that’s just haaaaarrrrd.

Certainly everyone switches on autopilot now and then and just Goes Through The Motions. Sometimes you just need a break. But overall, I think life is not best served by GTTM.

One of the drawbacks of GTTM is that it eventually becomes hideously boring. If you never invest yourself in something, never awaken your passion and involvement, life can be a grey, dull, featureless expanse of blandness. Therefore, GTTM folks eventually want to skip over motions they find boring or unpleasant. “I wish it were the weekend” becomes “I wish it were next month/next year/ a decade from now.” This is spectacularly self-defeating, since such skipping ahead only brings you closer to the end.

Throwing away days because they are filled with dull GTTM instead of something to excite your passion is like throwing away twenty-dollar bills because they aren’t hundreds. Actually, it’s worse, because unlike money, our days can be invested with as much value as we care to put into them. Earlier this week hundreds and hundreds of people stopped by the funeral home to pay respects to Robert Porter. They didn’t do it to honor a life spent GTTM. At the end, no one ever says, “Well, at least he never tried to do anything haaaarrrd.”

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