Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Governor's Staff

There's a lot to be sad about in this Spitzer mess. (Including the fact that the perfectly straightforward headline above can be taken as a naughty double entendre.) Everyone focuses on the collateral damage to the innocent victims in his family, especially his lovely wife and children. But I can't help feeling sorry for his staff, the people whose work enabled him to become - and (so far) stay - governor.

It's about as disorienting an experience as one can have at the office. One day everything is normal and all you have to worry about is the usual headaches of work. You know your boss isn't perfect - far from it - but he does his job and you enjoy doing yours to support his work. Then "It" happens - whatever nasty revelation "It" is - and it's like you're at the epicenter of an earthquake. All of a sudden, you're dodging chunks of acoustical tiles as the ceiling caves in; every time you try to grab hold of something solid, the ground seems to shift right under you. After the shock passes, you're left - if you're lucky - to clean up the mess. If you're not so lucky, you salvage what you can from your desk and beat a path to the nearest unemployment office. And although your world has crumbled, once you step out the office door you're shocked to see that as far as the rest of humanity is concerned, the sun is shining, the grass is green, and there's not a cloud in the sky.

At least in an earthquake caused by geological faults, the survivors get help. People flock to donate money, food, shelter; the Red Cross flies in with blankets and emergency supplies; strangers halfway across the country pray for you. But when the earthquake is caused by human faults - hey kid, you're on your own.

If it sounds like I might know what I'm talking about, it's only because I do. My boss was undone by the same thing that tripped up Governor Spitzer: Hubris. I don't know if it was a learning experience for him, but it certainly was for me. Living through that mess made me a better person, I think (if a less trusting one), and a better writer. It also gave me a new appreciation for the people I'd worked alongside all those years, as I saw them toughen up under fire. But I wouldn't wish such a growth experience on anyone

It's been nearly 20 years and just thinking about that period in my life makes me very sad. A few years ago, I unexpectedly came across some news footage of the event and burst into tears. Can you get Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from working in an office? Ask the Governor's staff in five or ten years.

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