Vacation days are dumb beasts. They don’t know there’s a pandemic. They keep reproducing, even though they’re unnecessary, since the prudent person never goes anywhere anymore. Busy yourself working — isn’t that the best?
Yet they keep reproducing, out-of-sight. Then when your attention is finally forced in their direction, say, by your company’s human resources director, you’re shocked to see there are now dozens of them, a flock, cooing gently under the porch.
Use those days or lose them, and the only thing I like less than taking vacation — if you’re not in the paper, you might as well be dead — is losing vacation. You feel cheated. So I winnow the herd.
I was going to start vacation two weeks ago today. But the paper had scheduled me for diversity training, and that isn’t something the prudent employee skips. “Maybe if you had attended diversity training, you wouldn’t have . . . ” insert some head-slapping blunder here.
My only thought, beforehand, was an imperative. “Say nothing.” This event is transmitting information to me, not drawing information from me. Now is the time to show off my hard-won shutting-up skills.
The two-hour meeting transpired on Zoom. And might have vanished down the memory hole, except two days later, a presidential memo barring such sessions in the federal workforce was released. “The President has directed me to ensure that federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions,” wrote Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought.
This accusation cast the exercise in a new light. It was as if your company had its annual fire drill, where the alarm blares and the staff reluctantly shuffles to a designated spot to stand around being browbeaten by some Chicago Fire Department martinet about the importance of not taking your coffee cup along when you evacuate the building. Then the next day the pope denounces such drills as moral sins.
You’d take a second look. Having just participated in a supposedly “un-American propaganda training session,” I have a duty to share what it was like. Otherwise, I’m sitting on national news.
There is one problem, however: participants in such sessions are told they are in a safe space, so they can speak candidly. While I’m a let-it-all-hang-out kind of writer, I can’t make that decision for other people who think they’re speaking privately.
But I can say what transpired was the opposite of divisive.
It brought colleagues from various races, genders, ethnicities and inclinations together to talk frankly about issues central to our lives. If you believe that your life is the ideal template for all lives, then you probably wouldn’t get much from it. If, like me, you are interested in the perspectives of other people, then it is two hours well spent. It was un-American only if discussing problems facing our country is un-American. Only if you feel America is great because it has never done anything wrong. That’s obviously a fiction, and I vastly prefer an America that is great because it has overcome great difficulties and recovered from great mistakes.
Or is at least trying to recover.
Was every second useful? No, not to me. But having attended 28 days of alcohol rehab years ago, I am accustomed to sifting through an experience to discard the chaff and keep the valuable. Some days you discover meta-thinking. Some days you play balloon volleyball.
Let’s file diversity training under the Latin saying, “Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.” The times change, and we change with them. If we’re lucky, and if we pay attention, and work at it. If we’re not, the times still change, but we stay the same, and reality thunders past us, while we remain behind, in the dust, out-of-touch, complaining
Our president has a genius for this. For ignoring reality — we see how well that works fighting COVID or coping with a burning West Coast. He reacts to problems by minimizing them or blaming others. He’s too scared to try to solve them, by accepting what has gone wrong and then trying to do something about it. That’s hard, the hard work of patriots, to recognize our nation’s enduring failures and struggle to fix them.
Bottom line: if Donald Trump is trying to quash something, it must have real value.