Democracy: “The mustard on the hot dog"* 2021

Posted by jlubans on August 29, 2021

20130918-hot dog.jpeg
This post dates back to SEPTEMBER 18, 2013.
It’s worth a repeat appearance in these viral times in which some leaders have clearly overreached, they’ve shown their totalitarian “cloven hoof”.
What do I mean by “cloven hoof”?
PG Wodehouse, afflicted with dozens of aunts in his childhood, elaborated: “It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof. ”
It’s visible when leaders demand obedience (at gunpoint) without convincing explanations as to why: it’s on display when leaders fail but do not admit to bad decisions; and, it’s particularly grating when there is little or no involvement of the governed in decisions affecting their lives.
A few “good or humble aunts” of our governing class try to achieve a balance between what’s good for public health and what’s good for normal life. They avoid lock-step decision making; they weigh costs and benefits, and above all, they respect individual rights.
Here begins the re-post, slightly edited from its initial appearance in 2013:
I’ve been going on - in this blog - about the democratic workplace, as if I knew what democracy is.
E. B. White – in wartime England – was asked to write a statement on “the meaning of democracy.” His entertaining response appears in full below*. For my immediate purposes, I have separated out and annotated those defining points I think especially relevant to the democratic workplace in hopes of illuminating some of the concept’s nooks and crannies.
The Meaning of Democracy:
“It is the line that forms on the right.”
Egalitarian, democracy is. If you break into line, someone will mention it to you, probably not in the kindest of words.
“It is the ‘don't’ in don't shove.”
Mind your manners; say please, thank you, and would you mind? As a boss you have no inherent right to push people around. In stressful times, keep a sense of humor.
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Caption: Finishing touches, “Ain’t I something!”

“It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles.”
Ahhh, probably my favorite. Democracy anchors the easily inflatable, like a boss, down to earth. The boss who claims full personal credit for the people doing the day-to-day and making the wheels of industry hum, does so at his own ego-tripping risk. The stockholders will believe the stuffed shirt in good times, but the workers – no sycophants, they - know better, much better. Some omniscient experts have, over 18 months, worn several holes in their shirts, and the sawdust has all but trickled out.
“It is the dent in the high hat.”
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Caption: Dent caused by hat colliding with Brazil nut followed by much jeering.

You bet; enjoy your high hat; just don’t expect everyone to think you are somehow above the rest of us, the hoi polloi. If you do, your hat – in a democracy - becomes a magnet (and target) for the stray slingshot walnut or biscuit.
“Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.”
In the workplace, the best boss knows her idea can only get better if she shares and builds on it with ideas from the staff – the people doing the work.
Experts have their place, but the notion of being ruled by an elite galls many people.
“It is … the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.”
Libraries have changed but when you go into one and think about it, yes, there is a communion in the hallowed purpose and tradition of the “people’s university”. As for vitality, that’s in scarce supply these days as many libraries have chosen to close, declaring themselves, nonessential!
However, I did observe plenty of vitality (and a surfeit of communion), at a recent Vermont town hall meeting, a walking, talking, breathing example of democratic decision-making.
“It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet.”
Lincoln’s unfinished work at Gettysburg comes to mind: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Remember? Our “great task”, ensuring “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”Democracy in the office is also unfinished work.
“It's the mustard on the hot dog.”
That’s the piquant sense when people feel equal and effective, when they stress “We” over “Me”, and mean it. It’s when the group achieves what no individual can and everyone concludes, “Wow, we did it!”

*SOURCE: E. B. White as quoted by ROBERT KRULWICH in his essay
Democracy, My Mother And Toast” on National Public Radio on July 02, 2013:
“Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the "don't" in don't shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.
Democracy is the letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It's the mustard on the hot dog, and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.”

A regular reader? Show your appreciation (not by the cliché of “putting your hands together”) but by buying my latest book of workplace fables. If you already have a copy, get a second. (Just kidding).

And, don’t forget my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright all original text by John Lubans 2021

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