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The Power Pie

February 11, 2011

Where have I been!?  Busy.  Very busy.

A big project that I have been working on for several months is gaining momentum and taking up more and more of my “free” time; that is, the time when LM is napping and I can make phone calls without shrieks/squeals/giggles in the background.  And I work on it quite a bit when LM is awake, in terms of responding to emails, filling out paperwork, etc.  What is this amazing project?  A bicycle race!  In the heart of our downtown, happening in about two months.

It may not sound complicated, but it’s ridiculous!  Permits from the cycling governing body, permits from the City, permits from the Department of transportation, a professional traffic control plan to route traffic around the closed course (one-way streets blow), a permit from Parks and Recreation, plus race registration, setting up the prizes, planning a kids race, getting vendors for the expo….the list goes on.  Today I dealt with a very unpleasant aspect of race planning: trolls.  Ok, I haven’t really dealt with the situation, but it arose and I know the next step I have to take.  Basically, ONE person with a bit power doesn’t like the fact we are having a bike race that will block access to her particular building .

Now, the building is only open for 4 hours during the race, and the parking lot we are blocking is free on the weekends, so the building will not lose any revenue from having the lot blocked.  Our expo is immediately adjacent to this building and thus we may actually drive more traffic to the building that it would normally get.  Plus, it is in the best interest of US to make sure that plenty of alternative parking is available for people to come to the race and the expo–and there is plenty of time to notify the patrons of this building that parking will be affected on this day, which is more than two months from now.  I sent an email to this person detailing these points and stating that I would call her (per her request) so we could discuss it further.

I got no response from the voicemail. An hour later I got a two line response to my email stating that she “discussed it with the administration and decided the garage will operate during it’s normal hours, so we need to find another route for our race that will not disrupt the operations of the garage.”  Hmm.  Thats funny, because the Police Department Special Events liaison and the DOT rep in charge of closures and detours both said we could use the course, and they control the streets, where the race is being held.  I notified this woman basically as a courtesy and tried to engage her in a conversation about mitigating the effects of our race and coming to a compromise.  She turned into a troll, though, in her valiant attempt to defend her piece of the power pie.

Now I can’t even recall where I heard that term, but it is so very appropriate; all the forces and powers that make our world go around around divided up into slices, if you envision them as a pie chart.  Some people are overly protective of their piece of power, and it’s usually the people with smaller pieces.  I understand this woman’s concern that we may interrupt some of the traffic into her building, but we have gone through all the proper channels and I want to work with her to help minimize that interruption. I feel badly that her response was to overstep her power and try to simply state that I “can’t do” what I am allowed to do and fully intend to do, because I’m going to have to tell her just that, which will actually serve to diminish her perceived power.

This all sounds very Marxian, discussing conflicting social powers, but you see it all the time–between clerks and customers, waiters and diners, teachers and students, employees and supervisors.  The key to being a good person is to wield your power with the awareness that you could just as easily be the less powerful person in the interaction.  Basic Golden Rule kind of stuff, but people so often treat the people who they view as subordinate to themselves like total crap.  There is the fantasy that all people are equal (either created that way or made that way under the law, whichever view you like), but it is a far more dangerous fantasy to believe that people are inherently unequal.  People who believe that (the very smart, very rich, otherwise privileged, etc.) abuse their piece of the power pie without considering the consequences.

I guess my point is that power is constantly in flux and you need to respect those below you as well as above because it can change quickly.  I respect my employer because the company signs my check, but (fortunately) my company respects me because I do the work that makes them money.  Respect your teachers because they are smarter than you now, but they better respect that you may be smarter then them down the line.  And I wish this troll respected my initial request to talk with her about a compromise, but she basically saw me as a tiny threat to her power pie without realizing that she actually has no power to tell me what to do.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Eliot permalink
    February 16, 2011 5:20 pm

    Good points all. Two random things both involving Hellboy that made me think of you: 1) In the first movie, they play a brief part of “Red Right Hand” (that’s what it’s called, right?) by Nick Cave (…right?). 2) Your troll reference reminded me of the second Hellboy movie, where really the only funny line is when Ron Perlman mutters derisively to an actual troll: “Come on, ya dirty troll…”
    (Not a big Hellboy fan, just saw the movies recently.)

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