Come Out at Work: As a Person
Yet you might not guess the answer.
In a recent article called “Last of the Cave People,” National Geographic writer Mark Jenkins related his experience following the Meakambut, “one of the last cave-dwelling, seminomadic peoples in Papua New Guinea.” With him was Sebastian Haraha, an ethnographer whose purpose on the journey is described by Jenkins as:
To pinpoint the exact locations of the Meakambut’s caves with a global positioning system. He hopes to register them under the National Cultural Property Act, so the homeland of the Meakambut will be protected from logging and mining.
Noble work! Then after witnessing the Meakambut men and women struggle for survival without much help, Haraha becomes disillusioned with his efforts. Jenkins writes:
He was compelled to temporarily abandon his plan of mapping the Meakambut’s caves—the goal of which is to save their habitat, and thus ensure the continuation of their culture in the future—in order to save their lives in the present. He says the choice was clear. He is a human first, an ethnographer second.
“Protecting the caves? What does it matter—if there are no Meakambut left?” asks Sebastian.
Haraha invokes his humanity first, and his professional role second. Which may be more profound than we realize.
You may recall the pretty miserable Stanford Prison Experiment, the 1971 study that intended to investigate the psychology of prison life? Comprising about 20 Stanford undergraduate volunteers divided into groups of prisoners and prison guards, it was abandoned prematurely because of the increasing barbarism that the “prison guards” were perpetuating against the “prisoners” in the experiment.
How did that happen?
The prison guards identified more with their role than with their humanity, or their person-hood. When they stopped paying attention to their internal world in service of the role assigned to them in the experiment, their unadulterated aggression took over, causing grave problems for everyone.
Which sheds light on the poignancy of Haraha’s grounding as a person. When the circumstances of his work tested him, meaning he was observing the Meakambut suffer, he accessed his feelings and acted on them. Both the Meakambut and he are benefiting from his wholeness.
So who might not know that you’re a person at work? If you don’t reveal and engage your whole self–also known as engaging in workplace nudity–it could be you.
At work are you first your professional role, or a person?
Date: March 5, 2012