11.07.2011

Polite Paper Commands Gone Wild


Last Spring I found this Polite Paper Command in a classroom I teach in.  This building is the original building that Malone University built for its campus -- and in the 1960s, housed the entire student experience, classrooms, dining hall, meeting rooms, administrative offices: everything.

Now only a few of us are relegated to its warmth.  And when I say warmth, I mean quite literally kill-you-with-heating-problems warmth.  Apparently, from what I know, you get to turn the heat on one time a year.  So in the fall you turn it on, and regardless of how many times Ohio decides to return to summer or winter, the heat stays on.  Similarly in the Spring, you get to turn it off one time.  If winter comes to visit again?  Too bad for you: wear mittens to work.

I am (oddly, I know) relatively impervious to temperature change.  Unlike most people I know, the temperature does not cause me distress or elation.  I like cold.  I like hot.  I don't even mind vacillating temperatures.   So I was NOT the villain about to be introduced in this story (but it wouldn't be beneath me to participate in this villainy), but I happened to be lucky enough to watch the drama unfold.

Years ago I started noticing these Polite Paper Commands popping up on walls, doors and windows in various institutional settings.  The American Egalitarian Ethos has been an undercurrent streaming in this direction for as long as there has been an America.  The particularities of team-based workplaces and flatter organizations is a much more recent innovation to corporate culture.  But I think that it's the wide accessibility of printing tools that made this phenomena come to fruition.  Once everyone in an organization can print out a sign that has a modicum of respetability?  Suddenly the "official" voice becomes quite a bit more heterogeneous.  Everybody has a say.  Of course the politeness of these signs (please, thank you, I'm sorry) suggests that a bit of deferentiality toward the public sphere and the possibility of conflict still exists.

I'd like to write a book with a title like:

NEVER WORK AT AN OFFICE WHERE NOBODY HANGS UP SIGNS

You know that those places are strictly authoriarian, image-obsessed, and highly hierarchical.

So at my very flat, quaker, consensus-driven employer, I wasn't at all surprised to see a sign like the one you see above posted.  Particularly in my heat / cool-diseased building.  I didn't have my phone or camera to photograph it on day one.  No big deal, I thought, I'll get it tomorrow.

I forgot my camera again.

And that's where the real regret sets in.  Because someone had written in ink on the bottom corner of the sign.  The scribbles were protests about a broken system and arriving in a room so hot that skin had melted.  And I had no camera to capture it.

When I remembered my phone/camera the next day?  It was too late to capture that message, but not too late to capture a more shocking development.  The polite paper sign hanger?  Had ripped off the evidence of dissent and disposed of it.

The layers of drama, irony and complexity are so overwhelming that this may indeed be my favorite of the polite paper commands thus far.

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