A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
July 27th, 2014 by William

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

“I wanted to know the difference between Heaven and Hell so I decided to visit them both. I first went to Hell. There I found people sitting at long tables filled with sumptuous food, but they were all emaciated and starving. They had spoons that were 6 feet long and could not bend their arms in such a way to feed themselves.

“I then went to Heaven and saw a slightly different situation. The people there were also sitting around long tables piled with food. They too had 6 feet long spoons, but they were all well-nourished and happy because they were feeding each other across the table.

“I then understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way people treat each other.”

This story is an adaptation from a parable called “The Allegory of the Long Spoons.” The allegory depicts the difference between heaven and hell by means of people forced to eat with long spoons. It’s credited to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok, Lithuania who supposedly once told this story to his congregation. The story suggests that people have the opportunity to use what they are given (the long spoons in this case) to help each other, but the problem, as Haim points out, lies in how people treat each other and fail to help each other. Nowhere is the problem of how people treat each other more noticeable than every day in workplaces all over the world.

Given the same level playing field one group of people who treat each other well will create a pleasant environment–Heaven. Whereas, another group of people, given exactly the same tools to work with, can create unpleasant conditions–Hell–simply by how they treat each other. Of course the operative words are: level playing field and we all know the workplace is not always a level playing field. This is a simple truth about the workplace which can be easily forgotten by people unable to see their situation clearly or are in denial. A dysfunctional workplace culture can cloud even the most intelligent people’s judgment and morals, i.e., they begin to mimic the prevailing dysfunction. In the end your particular workplace can be either Heaven or Hell depending on your perspective–or more appropriately on whether you’re a victim or a perpetrator.

One day while walking down the street a highly successful business person was tragically hit by a bus and died. Upon arrival in heaven he was met at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter. “Welcome to Heaven,” said St. Peter. “Before you get settled in though, we have an offer for you to make sure you’ll be happy.” “No problem,” said the man.

St. Peter then told him, “What we’re going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in.” “Actually, I think I’ve made up my mind, I prefer to stay in Heaven”, said the man.

“Sorry, we have rules,” said St. Peter. And with that St. Peter put the executive in an elevator and it went down to hell. The doors opened and he found himself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club and standing in front of him were all his friends–fellow executives that he had worked with and they were all dressed in nice suits and cheering for him. They ran up and shook his hand and they talked about old times. They played an excellent round of golf and at night went to the country club where he enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner. He met the Devil who seemed to be a really nice guy and he had a great time telling jokes and socializing. He was having such a good time that before he knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook his hand and waved goodbye as he got on the elevator. The elevator went up and opened back up at the Pearly Gates where he found St. Peter waiting for him.

“Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven,” he said. So he spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp. He had a great time and before he knew it his 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got him. “So, you’ve spent a day in hell and you’ve spent a day in heaven. Now you must choose your eternity,” he said.

The man paused for a second and then replied, “Well, I never thought I’d say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell.” So St. Peter escorted him to the elevator and again se went down to Hell.

When the doors of the elevator opened he found himself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. He saw his colleagues were dressed in rags and were picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks. The Devil came up to him and put his arm around him.

“I don’t understand,” stammered the man, “yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a country club and we ate steak and lobster and had a great time. Now all there is is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.” The Devil looked at him and smiled. “Yesterday we were recruiting you, today you’re staff.”

This story dramatizes how a workplace can look perfectly fine when you’re interviewing but once you’ve started work it turns into a Hell very quickly. Even the most dysfunctional organizations that I’ve worked for in the past always came across as Heaven during the interview process. Why? Misery loves company–just like the folks the man saw in Hell–fellow executives that he had worked with and they were all dressed in nice suits and cheering for him. In an interview people will expound on how great their company is to a new prospective all the while knowing it’s a Hell on Earth.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a book by the English poet William Blake. It was composed around 1793, in the period of radical upheaval and political conflict immediately after the French Revolution. It is a series of texts written to express Blake’s own intensely personal and revolutionary beliefs.

All of us are led to believe that Heaven is good, and Hell is bad. Countless stories, books, movies and anecdotes equate Heaven with all that is good and Hell with all that is evil and that these are diametrically opposed and in different locations. Unlike that of Dante, according to Blake, both good and bad are necessary, coexist, and are interwoven parts of existence. Blake tells us that good and evil aren’t what we think they are–they’re different states of being or thinking–they are the result of how we function every day in the workplace toward our colleagues. Blake’s assertion is that both are needed to keep the world (workplace) going.

Such is the average workplace–a marriage of Heaven and Hell. Which it is for you personally will depend on your situation and it’s different for each member of an organization. For sociopathic bullies, the dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog workplace they create is their Heaven but, for the poor souls that are the target of their wrath the same workplace can be a living Hell. And the distance between the two isn’t very far at all.

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