Lesson from Bureaucracy

It happened last week,  when I lined up at a New York immigration booth to ask a simple question about fingerprints I was scheduled to submit. My question? I’d simply wanted to ask – Do I fill out a form in hard copy before immigration officers call me in to get fingerprinted for my US Citizenship application?

It’s important to note that the big room was empty except for Robyn McMaster, and a slightly built Latino lady who did not speak English and sat in a back row.  

Eight windows along the front desk that could double for cashier booths at any race track, were occupied by only two clerks when we arrived. So I selected the one closest to me and waited until she lifted her head. Then I asked my question.

Puzzled, she pointed confidently to the booth immediately beside her and told me to line up there. Her directions echoed across the emptiness of the immigration room, but nevertheless I moved over as told,  and prepared for a clerk to appear in the empty window.

Then after one minute or so,  that same clerk slowly lifted herself from her stool a few feet away and walked over to my newly assigned booth. Since she already knew the answer to my question – she simply said, “Yes, fill out the form over there on the table.”

When I said back. “But you’re the same girl I just spoke to.” She laughed, as if I’d caught onto a top secret that bureaucrats go by when they create rules and treat all humans the same, and all queries the same, taking a rigidly fixed route from point A to B as if routines offered a magic wand to add zip into rehearsed responses only. Yikes, what was I to do with all that just happened to me at the hands of government officials? Robyn and I laughed on the way home, yet we also dreamed of rejuvenated and interactive government officials.

Then yesterday my friend, Robert Hruzek asked what we learned from Government lately, and my immigration story flashed back. I learned a great deal about bureaucracy that day – but some of it I already knew. Hopefully, with government changes this week, I’ll begin to learn more about rejuvenation within government leaders.

By the time I become a US citizen, I hope we can create government with more of the brain in mind. How so?

1. I’d like to see attack ads transformed into support for more diverse ideas, openly discussed.

2. I hope we rewire for peace and build stronger communities internationally where we value others.

3. I’d leap for joy at spaces for people to engage more talents from genius aging minds all around us.

Those are 3 things that popped quite quickly into my mind, when the booth lady shifted me to her pre-set line to answer my question, and by so doing gave me a larger dream for what government could become, with more of the brain in mind.  What have you learned from government lately?

16 Comments

  1. Ellen, this was absolutely the most “brainless” event I ever witnessed. But it certainly gave us a great belly laugh when we exited the austere Federal Building. :-)

    Robyn McMasters last blog post..Inspiring Words to Help Third World Women

  2. eweber says:

    Robyn, unless one had a good friend there to witness what happened – few would believe it could be that way. Today’s a new day – and I see so much more for this fine country!! Thanks for setting that stage for so many to see by the example you set for US citizens daily. You inspire the rest of us.

    By the way I am 9/10 a US citizen and will be proud to help build this country as I am proud to also be Canadian! Thanks for helping to make it that way!

  3. Ellen,

    Leave it to government to make bureaucracy a way of life! While such situations as the one you’ve recounted seem almost absurd–to thinking people, at least–the very nature of bureaucracy is, after all, to do everything by the book and with brain disengaged. Once we understand that, such things don’t shock us quite as much as they did before–though we’ll never get used to them–and indeed we shouldn’t!

    Thought-provoking post!
    Jeanne

  4. eweber says:

    Thanks Jeanne, and I agree with what you said even better than me. Sad – but true – but able to change! Hopefully we are starting a new path! Hope seems more in the air! It will take all of us and people like you lead the way!

  5. Yup; the wheels of bureaucracy may grind slowly, but grind you they will!

    The really sad thing is most of us won’t bat an eye at such stories because we’ve come to expect the least from bureaucrats. I’m with you, Ellen; our Government needs to change! I just hope it changes for the better.

    Robert Hruzeks last blog post..Vote!

  6. rummuser says:

    I learnt a long long time ago that I am allergic to bureaucrats, politicians and diplomats.

    To the extent possible I avoid having anything to do with them. In India, where I live, we can do this by hiring professional go – betweens who will get everything done, including getting the bureaucrats to come home if needed to attest your signature or whatever. All this of course costs much more than if one were to go through the normal process, queues etc. When I have to go, like for an interview for a passport or something, I try and finish the encounter as swiftly as possible, come home and take a hot and cold shower to get rid of the creepy feeling that I would have acquired during the encounter.

    Believe me, this is my attitude throughout the world. Irrespective of which country they come from, these three breeds of people appear to be clones.

    rummusers last blog post..A Magnificent Story.

  7. eweber says:

    Robert, what hope we all hold today that together we can create a better way! I am so glad that folks like you chase a great vision and share other’s visions too! What a privilege to interact on a topic that we could change! Thanks for your wonderful insights!

  8. eweber says:

    Ramana, for the first time in ages people are really sparked for new approaches here in the US. My form is about new brain based approaches that bring higher motivation and achievement for all. Would you agree that people like you and I can make a difference as we model rejuvenated approaches – and inspire change in systems. It’s was not easy for Obama and his work is not done yet. Nor will it be easy for you or me – but what a reward when we remain balanced, positive and neutral so that we can invoke a better way. I see it in your words so often and value what it teaches all of us! Thanks for weighing in, Ramana! Today is another new day!!

  9. rummuser says:

    As usual, you inspire me. Let me just lighten up matters somewhat. Michael Moore was asked why he endorses Obama, and got the reply that MM fully expects Obama to do exactly the opposite of what he said he would do while campaigning!

    rummusers last blog post..An Unintended Consequence of Mr. Obama’s Victory.

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  12. Oh your story made me laugh Ellen. Oh for a world without the level of bureacracy that so often renders us citizens helpless. Maybe the new US administration can show us the way?

    Jackie Camerons last blog post..First rule of effective networking – be nice!

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