Steady on, systems do have their uses

By Terry Sarten

Once a person has entered the doors of indifference and been tested by the system, they are never the same again. IT IS not "te tangata" the people but "the system, the system, the system" that determines much of what happens in our lives. The "system" exists in many forms and guises. It often seems its main purpose is to thwart the aims of people, presenting a blizzard of words and documents that must be negotiated with caution.

We are not talking about red tape that is simply about making simple things complicated. Systems are a different thing altogether. They can develop lives of their own. We usually don't notice this until somebody poses the "why" question and the answer is "we have always done it that way".

The "system" is neutral in its own way. It does not easily bend or alter or make room to fit around people, no matter who they are. There are those who claim they know how to use the system but they often get caught in another part of the system such as justice which has other ideas on what will happen next.

Institutions are the natural habitat for systems. Big organisations provide the ideal setting in which systems can grow and thrive. They can camouflage themselves with good intentions, lurking inside dusty folders waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting and the naive.

Once a person has entered the doors of indifference and been tested by the system, they are never the same again.

The "system" is not the same as a bureaucracy. To use a rough analogy, a bureaucrat is the person paddling the canoe and the system is a river that goes round and round in a circle. (OK - I know that is not a good one - reader please provide me with your ideas).

The government likes to blame bureaucrat when things go wrong, often conveniently forgetting that it was the Minister for "things that should go right" who instructed the Ministry of convenient scapegoats that stuffed it up.

I have worked in some big institutions.

It may seem unlikely but prisons and hospitals share some characteristics. Both are good at their core functions and crisis management. If you are ill or injured, a hospital will engage its entire energy around the task of making you better. Prisons focus on keeping people inside their walls and protecting inmates from each other.

In either of these institutions, the task of getting something simple, say a new office chair, well the earth may have baked from getting too close to the sun before you actually get one.

I used to think that this was a bad thing, especially when I had no chair, but I have done a major rethink. The ship of state needs to provide its passengers with a steady voyage. We need to know we can rely on institutions such as hospitals, schools, police and justice when we need them. They cannot be chasing after every new fad. That would disastrous.

In the world of business and commerce there is a constant procession of new concepts and jargon to go with them. Many are simply glitzy fads which last as long as the consultants who promote them. I call these people the Jargonauts.

They travel the world at great expense to others, tossing out new paradigms, buzzwords and concepts, before moving on, leaving companies, corporations and government departments counting the cost of the latest round of mad motivational sessions that have caused a significant proportion of the staff to weep in despair, take their talent and go work for someone else. Meanwhile the Jargonaut has retired to somewhere warm and sunny.

Terry Sarten is a writer, musician, social worker and who part-time curmudgeon. Feedback email:

- Wanganui Chronicle

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