When I was a youngster, starting out in the world of work, one of my fledgling tasks was to take a piece of paper into an office where a bear of a man would put a stamp on it. This quaintly old fashioned act of bureaucratic officialdom would then release some widgets into my possession. My widgets were always needed urgently. So were everyone else’s. But I never got my widgets right away. There was always a problem. I had the wrong piece of paper, it was the wrong signature, it was the wrong phase of the moon. The rules changed every time. The guy was playing with me. I always had to come back, time and time again to stand before the bear-man and his rubber stamp, then go away with my tail between my legs to explain, humiliated, to my boss that the man would not give me my widgets.
I hated him. He was terribly overweight, stank of cigarettes, his hands were stained a sickly yellow. His skin was sallow, his teeth black. He was ugly, and he had a bad temper. He was a heart attack waiting to happen, and forgive me but I hoped it would happen soon. And he thought I was a useless greenhorn kid of seventeen, unsure of himself, easily fobbed off, and to be fair, I thought this about myself as well, and hated myself for it, while he probably thought he was pretty cool.
Our relationship was never going to be an easy one. Getting widgets out of him was a nightmare, but it had to be done. Our mutual problem was that we were both living unconsciously. I thought he was an inferior human being, and he thought the same way about me, which made me feel pretty worthless about myself as well. None of this was spoken of course – it was more an awareness that passed at a subliminal level – communicated through the halting tone in my voice, in my body language, even in the sweat on my brow, while his self possessed superiority came at me in long unsettling waves, pulsing from his obnoxious bulk.
Later on though, I came to see him differently. I’m not sure how, and it was a gradual thing – not a revelation or anything – but eventually, I found a way of looking closer, of raising the level of my consciousness. And he became a man like any other, a mother’s son, perhaps even a father to children of his own. He would laugh, I suppose – though I never saw him so much as smile – but we all laugh at things, don’t we? He was probably bored with his job – all he did was sit in this grey, sour smelling office and stamp bits of paper all day. It must have driven him mad. It must have made him say to himself every night when he put on his coat and turned off the light to go home: there must be more to my life than this?
I won’t go so far as to say I found a way of actually liking him, but I did come to respect the humanness in him, respect his right to breathe the same air as me, and I tried to see more in him than my own ego had previously permitted.
As for my opinion of myself – equally important – I decided I was okay too. I wasn’t a genius, nor a demi-god or anything – I was just this human-being, like him, both of us making our way as best we could. Together we had a job to do. I had to deliver the piece of paper, get him to stamp it, then I could get my widgets. This was how we met and interacted in the world-machine. I’m sure his opinion of me didn’t change very much and he remained entirely unconscious of my being, as well as largely delusional about his own, but my new found confidence in myself, and my egoless respect for his right to simply be did bring about an unexpected change and, crucially, an easing in the anxiety I had always felt in my dealings with him. Instead of sitting, staring at me with glassy, bloodshot eyes and pointing out the bureaucratic shortcomings on my little piece of paper, he would grunt, then reach for his rubber stamp.
And I would get my widgets right away.