The Workplace

Ada Powers
2 min readMay 17, 2021

An innocent-seeming question came across my LinkedIn feed:

It’s easy to have an opinion on this. The question leads you there itself, begging you to read: should obviously non-work things be allowed at work? Open and shut.

But it’s a study in the power of defining terms.

In the naming of the workplace — The Workplace, such a powerful abstraction — as a territory which even CAN, much less SHOULD, be “free” of anything which exists abundantly in the world, we contrive to frame it as a thing apart from our lives.

The emotional logic is sound: who would light a cigarette in a crowded elevator? Between the lines, it says: we’re forced to exist together in the service of sustaining ourselves and our families. We cannot easily leave this arrangement, so the environment should strive to limit unnecessary challenge.

Here is the second term, one whose definition is invitingly vague, in contrast to the rivets and girders of The Workplace: politics.

We hear the word and imagine blue and red, pennants waving, rabbles rousing. But so much is made political in today’s world, through no desire of the politicized: experiences. Existences. Bodies. Mine, and maybe yours, too.

In the over-naming of The Workplace, and the under-naming of politics, we create a system which perverts the emotional logic mentioned previously: inexorable forces act as waves and tides on people’s lives, but the naming of our labored breaths is made verboten to our livelihoods, which we require to properly weather those forces.

It creates a play where the actors must rehearse for the part of audience, and whose success is based on the audience never being aware a play has occurred. It creates a world where those whose communities are ravaged by attacks may take time off to recenter, but must not say why, even if their competence is called into question for it.

And those for whom that burden is untenable are encouraged to follow the Free Market, and work elsewhere. And The Workplace is lauded for remaining free from challenge. And questions such as these ripple throughout The Workplace, inviting easy answers. Open and shut.