Bubble Village

BUBBLE VILLAGE / Image: Michael Moffa

“You can take the villager out of the village, but you can’t take the village out of the villager”—a temporarily accurate observation about Chinese villagers

You work in a bubble—one that contains you, your clients, colleagues, candidates and applicants. Paradoxically, the more “professional” your bubble is, the more its atmosphere and workings resemble the vanishing casual, cordial, civil and congenial atmosphere of a friendly colonial New England or traditional Chinese village, within the enveloping membrane of which, everyone knew or knows everyone and would be welcome to drop by for tea without notice.

This resemblance between your office bubble and a traditional village bubble is due to the fact that as an absolute precondition of being a professional in a professional workplace, you must treat everyone with village-level personal consideration sufficient to keep them, if not your job, inside the bubble, lest you find them or yourself looking out from inside a new or no bubble.

Professional and Village Courtesies

As a professional, you are expected to treat everyone within your professional bubble with respect, patience, courtesy, interest and consideration, while doing what you can to accommodate those whose needs you are made aware of.  As professional standards, these become part of the reflex conduct of life in your bubble as well, as the boundary between professional and personal melts under the influence of institutionalized and financially rewarding warmth. Such treatment sounds as much like what might be expected of idyllic village life as like what is expected of you at work.

Ironies of Your “Bubble Village”

The irony of your “bubble village” dynamics is that even though its interactions are almost entirely professional, rather than personal—much more “Gesellschaft” than “Gemeinschaft” (more commerce than community), they somehow and nonetheless set and follow standards of courtesy and trust one expects from far less “sophisticated” intimately connected Gemeinschaft-oriented villagers around the world in their daily personal dealings with each other.

(Formally defined, “Gesellschaft” means “a societal form of association in which rational order, neutral involvement, and obligations to institutions are dominant”. “Gemeinschaft”, on the other hand, means “a social relationship between individuals which is based on common feeling, kinship, or membership in a community”.)

The supreme irony may be that the arena of commerce, in which smiles are often required by the Gesellschaft job, may be one of the few remaining domains of human interaction in which whatever ancestral natural Gemeinschaft human tendency we possess to smile at, talk with and otherwise interact with complete strangers is allowed, as well as encouraged.

If you have ever been, as I have, in a traditional Gesellschaft-oriented village in a developing or underdeveloped country, you will have seen, sensed or shared in a traditional cultural counterpart to your office’s professional, Gemeinschaft commercialized dynamics: You will find a general geniality expressed as hospitality, friendly curiosity,  helpfulness and generosity—as a bare minimum, directed toward you, the visitor, as you are fussed over and maybe even gently pawed.

For example, invited to stay a weekend with a Chinese farming family in a 20-family village near Chengde, I was accorded every hospitality possible in a village home that had an open hearth for cooking, free-running chickens and cows, but no running water, yet lots of friendly and curious relatives. Moreover, back in the hustling city, virtually all of my interactions with the ordinary Chinese were characterized by the same Gemeinschaft welcoming treatment—confirmation of my hunch that although the villager may leave the village, the reverse is not true, at least for now and until the Gesellschaft engines of Chinese big cities bulldoze the last vestiges of the Gemeinschaft village spirit and ethos in interactions with foreigners.

Hollywood Celebrity as Village Peasant

In such traditional villages you will not only feel and be treated like a celebrity; you can also come to understand the essence and expansion of our own modern pop-culture celebrity cult: Fundamentally, our celebrities are what have replaced the village peasant or visitor.

For the warm welcome, curiosity, privileges and perks Hollywood celebrities elicit in our culture are substitutes for what was once readily available to almost anyone who lived in or visited kinship-based or otherwise community-focused villages— all freely offered by kin and neighbors who cared, shared and, yes, gossiped and pried.

In our culture, the cult of celebrity has replaced the charm of community, in an attempt to fill, at least vicariously for millions of fans, the vacuum created and left by destroyed village life. (The key transition point in this shift is perhaps best epitomized by the scene in “The Godfather, Part I”, in which Godfather Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) is given free fruit by a Little Italy street vendor motivated by his keen fused awareness of both celebrity and community.)

Through our celebrities we vicariously enjoy the social perks of being a traditional village peasant or visitor. Correspondingly, your alternative, as a recruiter, to being an adoring fan or a doting villager is to be very professional, lavishing your corresponding version of welcoming warmth, interest, helpfulness and support on your own Godfatherishly tended clientele.

However, once you step outside your modern professional “bubble village”, all bets on civility, caring, responsiveness, trust and friendliness are off—unless, of course and although unlikely, you are going home to a traditional village. Instead, the moment you step out of your professional space, into the bustling streets, the jostling mobs on train platforms or a bus seat next to a predictably silent stranger—strangely so near, yet so far,  the only smiles you are likely to see will be professional—smiles of conductors, shop clerks, sales staff, doormen and a multitude of other workers serving and smiling for a living (or perhaps merely enjoying being allowed to smile at strangers without seeming weird, in virtue of having a job that is generally known to encourage or require it).

Completing this irony is the fact that the closest match to a villager in your life, viz., your immediate neighbors at home, may be completely unknown, unseen, uncaring and uncared for—as mine are both within my neighborhood and within my apartment building.  Instead of the warm welcome, first-name greeting and expressed interest in the needs and plans of those who enter your office bubble, you may, once outside it, be wished a “nice day”, without ever being offered one.  Even more likely, you may be wished nothing at all by your neighbors, for years. Like me, you probably are or know someone who has lived like that for years.

Bubble Boys vs. Bubble Recruiters

Even if your recruitment niche is not, in virtue of global communications, as physically circumscribed as it is socially and professionally, it remains a bubble—a kind of bubble village, defined as much by what and who it excludes as by what and who it includes. Unlike immune-compromised “bubble boys”, whose bubbles surround them in order to exclude what is bad, viz., viruses, germs, toxins and allergens, your bubble village exists to include what is good and important for you, at least professionally.

Expand and Carry Your Bubble Village

The first observation that makes this “bubble village” concept useful and important is that awareness and cultivation of it can enhance both the commercial and community dimensions of your life.  Here’s how: In a recent Recruiter.com article titled “How to Be a Lazy Recruiter”, it was suggested that instead of focusing on entirely new and remote leads, you should work with friends of friends—people and contacts at the periphery of your professional sphere. Tacitly, that advice is a recommendation to stay within, yet expand your professional bubble village, by applying Gemeinschaft tactics to Gesellschaft ends, just as a smiling counter girl does at McDonald’s. That is to say, it is a recommendation to use community and personal interactions to further the ends of impersonal commerce.

A cynic would retort that this is a manipulative commercialization of community and social interactions and feelings. “Using” friends to contact their friends is, like forced smiles, the cynic would argue, deceptive, disingenuous and detrimental to our emotional, existential and social well-being. On the other hand, the more optimistically minded can argue that such a blended approach that mixes social and community relations with business relationships can with equal warrant be described as the “communalization of commerce”, i.e., the transformation—or at least mitigation of—impersonal, profit-oriented commerce, into something older, warmer, more personal and personable than pure business. Like village life.

A second observation is that maybe you should, like a bubble boy, take your bubble village with you when you leave the office. ,By sustaining at least the same professional office blend of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft—if not an emphasis on pure Gemeinschaft, you can open yourself up to making unexpected and rewarding contacts with those within whatever radius you feel you can effectively and safely operate, e.g., within six feet, two bus rows or one city block.

One of my very well-travelled and well-connected former high-level executive employers does this all the time and, without fail, makes invaluable connections during every trip—connections with ambassadors, scientists and ordinary people with extraordinary relevance to his professional mission.  As I see it, he achieves this by surrounding himself with a highly permeable village bubble into which he selectively allows complete strangers as guests, and in some sense recruits, almost always with substantial benefit to all concerned.

Double Your Bubble

Give it a try yourself. Double your bubble. When you leave (for) home, visualize a bubble, say, sixty feet in diameter, surrounding you and allow yourself to interact with those around you the way a welcoming and friendly villager would (assuming it is in an area or situation in which it is safe to do so). This doesn’t mean behaving like the proverbial village idiot. It merely means applying the same professional standards of the office and workplace to a zone and people removed from them.

Even if you don’t meet a real villager, you just might make everyone, including yourself, feel like one or an honored village guest.

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