I entitled this piece unsung heroes because that’s what I think many of the people who work in the background are. What do I mean by background? Lets begin the discussion with an example regarding a situation that has people in prominent and not so prominent roles. The first and best example that comes to mind is the recent conference I attended in Baltimore, MD.
At this conference there were over 10,000 attendees, 700 posters a day for four days, 30 presentations, and about 50 company booths. Now, clearly I do not lose sight of the fact that without the great minds presenting their work the conference would not occur. I understand that piece. However, the great minds are not the ones organizing everything. Take for example, the coordination of compiling, organizing, and printing the conference program. You KNOW that no one with a PhD did that job. Yet, obviously, someone did. The program looked well done, was well organized, and overall achieved its goal. Now, was there any recognition for the individual (or even committee) that went through organizing this endeavor? No. It’s one of the greatest understatements to say this.
Now, alternatively, one may argue that these employees are in fact just doing their job and their salary or wages is just compensation for completing their task. Again, I can see that point of view. However, I think the amount of time that is needed in order to problem solve when disasters arise, or just in dealing with problematic people in planning such a huge conference most likely surpasses the time stipulated by the employee’s contract. So any additional time spent is not compensated, hence the need for some sort of thank you by the conference organizers.
The above instance is just ONE example by which I’m using in my case. Additionally, I like to think of this one scenario that I heard myself in which someone I knew essentially said how excited they were to be an organizer for a presentation section. I replied, “Oh you talked to Sheila (the conference organizer)?” They replied, “No, she’s just a secretary.” Now, I know what secretaries do, my own mother was one for years. I also know the Sheila’s (name changed for this blog) job was not secretarial duties. I thought to myself after this conversation: “You know, YOU can barely manage 4 people. Just think how you’d fair in managing 10,000.” But again, the person who said this thought the their PhD glorified their feelings towards others.
As I was envisioning this blog, I wanted to take a step back and think about how these issues arise. Why do people as a group rarely acknowledge the work of underlings? As in my post regarding Monuments Men, WW II would not have been won if there were men in the infantry who died serving their country. The same comparison can be drawn to situations like this conference. A conference cannot occur if there is no one to organize it and do the manual labor. Just with my own personal thinking regarding this issue, I think it’s mostly stemming from a very simple concept: ego.
Ego is a very complex monster (and yes, it is a monster when it rears its ugly head). I honestly think that many people wish they are recognized for their service (even when it is compensated) and when they are not, they’d prefer no one to be recognized. However much I can speculate on what is the root cause of this, all I know is I have experienced this type of ego influence and that leads me to believe that it is a cause for selfishness of modern people.
In contemplating this issue and why it is prevalent, I believe there is only one way to combat it. If you see a janitor doing his/her job, do not avert your eyes but say thank you. Most likely they will be surprised that you even acknowledged them. In a more broad theme, pay attention to the people that may play a critical role in your activities or events and perhaps just go up to them and compliment them on a great job. Honestly, they, like the janitor, will most likely be surprised that you even thought to approach them, even with a thank you. Everyone works a tremendous amount and try to stay afloat in life. So just to say a quick thank you takes very little time, brightens someone’s day, and creates that “good feeling” in you. Very simple if you ask me.