Posted by jlubans on September 07, 2015


ON the heels of my blog, ‘’Your call is very important to us, really’: Leadership and failed customer service”, I’ve come across a short essay on “Doors.” I like this little temper tantrum from the early days of Soviet Russia and I will use it as a discussion reading in my next class (2016) on the Democratic Workplace.
“Doors” appears two-thirds of the way through a darkly comedic novel, The Twelve Chairs* as “In Moscow they like to lock doors.” It assails officialdom's observed relish to keep people away from the office holder, to keep doors locked, to minimize access, to frustrate the little guy from getting his visa stamped or getting an answer to a simple question without having to wait in line or to take a number or submit a written request.
It speaks to me of the ways the stereotypical office holder attempts to complicate, even stymie, the comings and goings of the rest of us, stereotypical humans. When we are forced to bow our heads and speak into a hole cut into bullet-proof glass, or when the person you thought was helping you mumbles and disappears into the back, never to return, or, If still there, tells you someone will get to you in due time.
And, why is there an armed policeman seated at a desk in the waiting room of the local Social Security office? Who is he guarding?
Yes, yes, someone will claim that the rules and regs are necessary for us to smoothly interact with each other, so any observed obfuscations are the excusable “inefficiencies” of a well-intentioned system. My response: Balderdash, piffle and phooey!
Often it is “the man” or, if you prefer, "the woman" putting one over on the little guy or gal because the condition of being an “office holder”, unless checked by a leader and corporate values, encourages and permits it. Why else would an un-named Opera house in 2015, with a dozen magnificent doors opening unto a glorious park landscape, require ticket holders to go around to the side and squeeze in a narrow door as if entering a house of ill repute?
The authors (Ilf and Petrov) offer several other examples.
And, they identify two types of signs to be found on locked door or near Rails, Barriers, Upturned benches, and Ropes, all erected to control access.

And, there are INDIRECT SIGNS:

This officiousness is not unique to communists or other totalitarians. What Ilf and Petrov rail about in 1928 Moscow is on display today in libraries, banks, the airport, the coffee shop, the hospital, the post office and every other governmental office in every country, democratic or despotic.
I want the students to think about why this happens; to question the expressed reason that standing and waiting to be “noticed” by eye-contact-avoiding staff, that taking a number, that queuing up is only done for efficiency; that doing so saves you time. Does it?
I’d like to see if the students would unlock doors. Would they remove the “Staff Only” sign?
I will ask, “Have you encountered this love of locking doors in your personal life? Has it lessened any since 1991 (the breakdown of the Soviet system)?
Do you know of locked doors (metaphorical or physical) that ought to be open?
What is behind (figuratively & philosophically) the locked doors? Does the locked or blocked or prohibited door mean more than just “no entry”?
At the conclusion of Doors, Ilf and Petrov openly defy the status quo: “To hell with doors! To hell with queues outside theatres. Allow us to go in without business.”
Do you agree or not? Why?


*Ilʹf, I., Petrov, E., & Richardson, J. H. C. (1997). The twelve chairs (Двенадцать стульев). Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press. Originally published in Russian as Двенадцать стульев, in 1928. Read the Doors excerpt in Chapter 28, “The Hen and the Pacific Rooster.”
Among the most amusing parts of the book is Chapter 22, “Ellochka the Cannibal” a masterful and hilarious portrayal of Ellochka Shukin, the wife of an engineer, with a vocabulary of thirty words, yet somehow “manage(s) easily and fluently” her day-to day-life.

Leading from the Middle Library of the week: University of Central Arkansas, Torreyson Library
Conway, AR United States

© John Lubans 2015
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