I was particularly struck by this passage in the preface to C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” – a work where Lewis imagines Hell as a bureaucracy of demon tempters and junior tempters who feed off of one another as well as their human “assignments”:
We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.
…Everyone wishes everyone else’s discrediting, demotion, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the confidential report, the pretended alliance, the stab in the back. Over all this their good manners, their expressions of grave respect, their ‘tributes’ to one another’s invaluable services form a thin crust. Every now and then it gets punctured, and the scalding lava of their hatred spurts out.
Reading this as a working adult made me shiver a bit, both in how I’ve seen its parallel in real offices with real people, and in how I’ve perpetuated it myself.
It’s easy as a programmer (or as anyone, really) to have this myopic view of the world. It’s all about me and my small area and everything else is an affront to its survival. Other people don’t get it, or if they did, they wouldn’t be trying to bring me down all the time. They’re out to get me. They just aren’t as good as me. Etcetera.
Many of the largest technical challenges at companies, in many ways, are breakdowns of broken human nature at scale. Systems fail or are poorly planned because it’s easier to code than to communicate (i.e., I’m smart enough to figure it out on my own, right?). Dead processes, products or technologies are defended to the death because they are a part of the kingdom someone has worked so hard to build – and even the thought of changing it brings the subtle implication that the king of that kingdom is wrong.
It’s so easy to lose hope and become disillusioned with both ourselves and the dark bureaucratic machinery at work in almost every organization. Every organization is made of broken people: us.
The answer to this is to follow Jesus, and learn from how he approached bureaucracy and hierarchy. Just look at how he approached his kingdom – though fully God, humbling himself to dirty, menial, beautiful service like in John 13 (emphasis mine):
He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end…He got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
…After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”