Another thing about Christmas, is that a couple of my colleagues are very, very keen on the whole business. I have various friends who start getting ridiculously over-excited about Christmas around about now, but I can just say ‘Fuck Christmas and then fuck it harder’ and they’ll indulgently accuse me of being a Grinch. But then they’ll back off. This is why they are still my friends and not just random people I used to know.
Unfortunately, the more formal relationship demanded at work requires a bit more subtlety. This, in turn, becomes incredibly tiresome, because there are those who Will. Not. Let. It. Drop. Chuck in the added factors of needing to maintain good working relationships, plus the narrowly defined notion of ‘being a team player’ and it all gets pretty complex. As well, the team I work in is very tribal. They like to feel that people ‘belong’ and they don’t have a lot of compunction in exerting considerable peer pressure to achieve that. The most common way this gets evidenced is on team nights out, when someone orders shots and the pressure is then on for everyone to drink them. One of my colleagues had to say ‘No’ six times before she finally got left alone. She’s a grown woman, with kids, who could reasonably be expected to know her own mind as to whether she wants a drink or not. Of course, it’s all done with laughter and banter, it’s all fun. Just rather less so when you’re on the receiving end of it.
So navigating these waters is hard enough at the best of times. I aim to maintain a balance between preserving my sanity and doing enough tactical joining in still to be part of the group. To this end, I did some foundation level socializing when I first joined the company, and then established my anti-social tendencies early on. I deliberately and consistently exaggerate what I’m sure are viewed as my eccentricities (preferring time on my own, staying in my hotel with a book, driving home rather than booking hotels so that I can get downtime in my house), so that my norm is recognized. I don’t think it’s coincidental that I get severe headaches at the end of team away days.
But, of course, there’s nothing like Christmas to ramp up the compulsory fun and participation. If rumor is correct, then the next signifier of belonging will be the wearing of the Christmas jumper. I am about as likely to wear a Christmas jumper as I am a Disney sweatshirt. They’re horrible, and I’m damned if I’m deliberately wasting money on a nasty creation of synthetic fibers in order to make a bunch of other people feel comfortable. I know it’s a small thing to make a fuss about. Why can’t I just grit my teeth and suck it up to make people happy?
I feel as though I already do put in enough effort at fitting in. I’m not really minded to do more, so it actually doesn’t matter whether the trigger for enough being enough is small or large. Peer pressure is an interesting mechanism for ensuring conformity. First, the person being pressured has to acknowledge that those doing the pressuring are peers; and second, some benefit has to accrue to the person being pressured, so that the yielding is worthwhile.
But forced belonging has always made me deeply uncomfortable and even nervous, long before I understood why. It’s about the exertion of at least mental force to make individuals submit their own preferences to the group, and that is a continuum with great ugliness at the end of it. It’s about herd mentality winning. And I think it’s about insecurity and weakness. In my view, a strong team should be big enough and generous enough to allow for the preferences of its members. I value difference over conformity. Well, of course I do. I’m a card carrying introvert whose natural position in life is observing from the sidelines.
Back to the Christmas jumper conundrum, and my risk analysis says that a couple of the more emotionally labile members of the group will get upset at my refusal because they’ll view it as an attack on the team, and may not get over it. But most will. It’s all quite interesting from an ethnographic perspective (I presume there are studies on tribalism in the workplace? If not, I could knock up a great PhD on that, so please send funding.) But as an individual, it’s wearisome.