Sunday, October 1, 2023


Ego death: End or new beginning? 

Imagine that all you know yourself to be and all that others perceive in you—your personality, attitudes, beliefs and mannerisms—just disappears. These attributes slip off like a robe, leaving you psychologically naked before the universe. This existential nakedness is what theologians call a state of “pure being” or “the ground of your being.” Theoretically, it’s what’s left when your mental onion has been peeled down to its primal core. 

To most, the idea of ego dissolution, of losing one’s sense of self isa fearful prospect, if not a terrifying one. But among some mystics, this is an aspirational state, one in which they seek to shed their social identities and enter the realm of unified consciousness, of oneness with all. Consequently, many of them believe that when we die, the persona called “me” (which encompasses your personality2/and identity) just vanishes. If that’s true, then what, if anything, is left? 

Well, some mystics claim that once the ego is gone, there is no mental observer left in one’s psyche. You are no longer a splintered self, with one part (the one who thinks and judges) observing and critiquing the other (the one who feels and experiences). What remains, they assert, is a profound sense of oneness in which you no longer feel like a separate individual. One’s consciousness merges with an all-encompassing unity. Some call it ego death. We get a teensy taste of this when we totally lose ourselves in some engaging activity, like reading a book, listening to music, watching a film or any other “in the flow” experience. Self-awareness ebbs but does not entirely disappear. In a more intense way, episodes of awe and wonder, which often arise when in nature, offer more powerful doorways to this feeling of transcendence. We connect and merge with something greater than ourselves, leaving little or no room -absorption. 

The end of me?

Now, many mystics believe that to truly know God, whatever you hold that to be, your ego must get out of the way. This is a different route to the divine than some religions propose, particularly those that believe we retain our sense of self (personality) beyond death. So, assuming for a moment that death is the end of “me,” who or what is left to experience this timeless state of spiritual oneness that mystics say remains? Good question. 

“At the core, we are pure consciousness, which death cannot destroy,” one of them told me. 

His assertion can’t be proven, of course, and there are many who believe that once the brain dies, so does any semblance of consciousness. Nonetheless, science does know that we humans are energy in a material form. Physicists also tell us that energy cannot be destroyed, but only transformed. There’s little disagreement that death is transformational. The debate arises over what that metamorphosis yields. Do you remain a “me” on the other side of death’s door, does your personal identity dissolve into a greater whole, like a raindrop falling into the sea, or is it simply lights out altogether? 

Obviously, nobody knows, but if the ego is a transient mental persona that dissolves at death, as many mystics contend, then each of us would do well to whittle ours down to size while still in this world. Through spiritual practices such as meditation and prayer, acts of kindness and service to others, as well the pursuit of transcendental states of consciousness and experiences of awe and wonder in nature, we can learn to identify less with the ego and more with that state of pure being that the mystics seek. 

“Do I end at death?” many of us wonder. 

The answer may depend on whether your “I” mostly represents your ego or, instead, largely reflects your soul.

--Philip Chard, Out of My Mind

Gen Z’s nonchalance infects the workplace

When it comes to the job market, Gen Z doesn't seem to care all that much. At least that's how some managers and employers feel corralling a generation of workers they believe (erroneously or not) is entitled, lazy and full of pushback. How are "zoomers" affecting the workplace?

What complaints do people have about working with Gen Z? 

In a survey, researchers found that "of 1,300 managers, three out of four agree that Gen Z is harder to work with than other generations — so much so that 65% of employers said they have to fire them more often," Rikki Schlott wrote for the New York Post, adding that 21% of managers also believe "entitlement is an issue" with new Gen Z hires. Peter, a hospitality manager based in New Jersey, told the outlet that he feels "kind of hamstrung on what [he] can and can't say," adding that he "doesn't want to offend" anyone and always worries that he'll "get freaking canceled."s most controversial moments

How does Gen Z feel?

Zoomers are making it very clear that their sole purpose in the workplace is to get in, do the job, and get out. Rather than forming emotional attachments to their roles, they prioritize a work-life balance over everything. Perhaps because Gen Z and even millennials are the only generations to have experienced the combined trauma of the debt crisis, gun violence, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic, losing a job sounds almost like a vacation. "It's not necessarily that different generations hold different attitudes about work," Sarah Damaske, an associate professor at Penn State University, told Vox. "For millennials and for some members of Gen Z, they've witnessed two recessions, back-to-back. This is a very different labor market experience than what their parents and grandparents encountered."

So are they slackers?

"Young workers are not lazy, entitled or keen on slacking off," Kim Kelly argued for Insider: "They're simply choosing to reject some of the practices that previous generations were forced to accept." Not to mention they might also find themselves working under managers that "are so burnt out they have little time to spend training the next generation, or even noticing what their workplace experience is like," Melissa Swift, a partner at the consulting company Mercer, told Financial Times' Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson. In other words, Edgecliffe-Johnson summarized, "you can't pin this all on Gen Z."

But while "quiet quitting" and detachment may seem enticing initially, younger workers would do well to remember that the world is constantly growing and evolving. In "slacking off" now, they run the risk of ruining their chances for a job down the line, Allison Schrager, an opinion columnist, wrote for Bloomberg. "Careers are long and so are institutional memories," Schrager said. "The pandemic aftermath may have given workers more power for now, but young staffers with decades of employment ahead should be thinking about what happens when that inevitably changes."

Is Generation Alpha any different?

Generation Alpha, which includes people born in 2010 and after, "will perpetuate our workplace burnout crisis" as a "side effect" of their ambition to "make work and societal change," said a 2020 LinkedIn analysis from Dan Schawbel, a managing partner at research agency Workplace Intelligence. Despite these intense efforts, which will "increase productivity temporarily at the cost of their mental health and long-term value contribution," Alphas "will demand even more from their employers than Gen Z's and millennials," Schawbel said. "They simply won't work for a company that doesn't align with their values and that isn't producing a product that benefits society."

Work and life will be "completely integrated" by the time Alphas enter the job market, where they will choose to work for less at a flexible job that supports their "emotional, physical and mental well-being" rather than deplete their tank for higher pay somewhere else. They will also "shatter old work norms and recreate the workplace based on how they interact in their personal lives," Schawbel concluded.

--Kelsee Majette, The Week

Why won't corporate America answer the phone?

When I recently called an MRI facility about an overcharge, a prerecorded voice told me, over and over again for 45 minutes, that call volume was “unusually high” and, by the way, the weather was compounding a labor shortage.

On another recent day, I needed to resolve a problem with a company with no listed phone number at all — which is how I found myself furiously pounding the keyboard in conversation with, yes, a chatbot at a vegan meal delivery service.

It shouldn’t be this hard to speak to a human. But, increasingly, companies large and small are making it difficult to access a real, live person when help is needed. Contact numbers are hard to find. Wait times to speak to an operator are long — one industry analyst estimated the average wait tripled from 2020 to 2022 and says he believes they still are a third worse than before the pandemic. Some phone lines are seemingly staffed entirely by robots, forcing you to go through menu after menu in quest of a live, real person. Or, increasingly, companies don’t offer a telephone option at all.

This is not simply inconvenient. It’s contemptuous. And consumers pay the price in emotional aggravation, in precious time and in literal money, as people give up on legitimate financial claims because they are unable to surmount the barriers in their way.

“It’s an absolute disaster,” says Abraham Seidmann, a professor of information systems at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. “It’s a major abdication of corporate responsibility.”

Companies say they are reducing options for human contact by popular demand. They claim customers often prefer a virtual option — so said Frontier Airlines after it recently ceased offering customers access to live phone agents, directing them to text, chatbot or email instead. But as the Wall Street Journal noted late last year, Frontier is simultaneously telling its investors that call centers are “expensive,” while use of chatbots eliminates the customer’s ability to negotiate.

There are nods to surveys showing millennials and Gen Z’ers prefer online contact. (Little wonder, since they’re naturally phone-shy, but it’s worth noting that they have also come of age in a world of dreadful phone service.) Employers also say that in the post-pandemic world, they can’t hire enough help.

All of this is, for the most part, excuse-making. If there are humans clamoring to end customer contact, it’s the ones in the c-suite, where the suits are happy to save a few pennies on call services at your expense.

“I don’t want to put nefarious intent in people’s mouths, but I’m positive that a lot of these companies looked at it and went, ‘Hey, our service levels went down [during the pandemic], and we didn’t lose customers over it, so let’s keep them a little lower. Let’s see how hard we can make this before they start pushing back,’” says Jeff Gallino, the chief technical officer at CallMiner, an analytics firm.

A survey by OnePoll in 2021 found that more than two-thirds of respondents ranked speaking to a human representative as one of their preferred methods of interacting with a company, while 55 percent identified the ability to reach a human as the most important attribute a customer service department can possess. “When people are anxious or have problems, they really, really want to talk,” says Michelle Shell, a visiting assistant professor also at the Questrom school. “You need human contact.”

As for the claim they can’t find willing employees? Yes, turnover is traditionally high in the call center industry, and even higher in the wake of the Great Resignation. On the other hand, given that call centers are located around the globe, that’s quite the worker shortage.

What’s really going on here is a question of power. Increasingly, leverage belongs not to the customer paying the bills but to the company offering the needed service — sometimes one for which there is no competition. Foisting the work onto the consumer is a bet that the customer has no other options or won’t choose to exercise them. And often, that bet is a good one.

None of this to say is that it’s always necessary to speak to a human. It’s easy enough to make a restaurant reservation online. But we need a human touch when things go wrong. We want help, not to spend hours looking for a useful phone number for Facebook (in case you were wondering, it doesn’t exist) or navigating endless phone trees.

There are some models for better regulation. In 2018, for example, California passed legislation mandating that chatbots disclose when there isn’t a human on the other side of the conversation. But there is no pending legislation in Congress that demands companies offer a human point of contact.

The difficulty of reaching humans for customer support is an imposition on both our time and our finances, forcing us to spend what can be hours of labor — sometimes known as shadow work or a time tax — to resolve what should be simple problems. It’s one factor contributing to the sense that we as American consumers are fighting our battles alone, as so much prey for Big Business. And it’s not so unreasonable to say we deserve better than that.

--Helaine Olen, Washington Post

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