Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rio Lisboa and Law Faculties

I am not sure how to describe Rio Lisboa because what do you call a bakery, deli, grocery store, juice bar, snack bar, and outdoor cafĂ© that never closes on a street in the Leblon section of Rio. What’s great about the RL is the constant feel of action, movement and goodwill. Grilled ham and cheese $3.00. Two eggs, $1.50. A complete roasted chicken cut up and packaged to take home $8. All that helps too. Bakers wrapping pastries in two layers of paper all tied up with string. Waitpeople moving in and out and around people as though they had done it eons. Smooth efficiency. No one seems to be trying but everything gets done. Unlike its closest counterparts in the US, No one seems stressed and no one is yelling.

No one ever appeared to be shirking at RL. If you were waiting at the pastry counter for a slice of the amazing Brazilian version of French toast, you did not wait for long. No one appeared to be too busy chatting it up with another worker to do his or her job. Professionalism. Yes, even Adrianna serving a $1.50 cup of coffee did it like it mattered to get it right. Frequent embracing between the workers and between the customers and workers. No sign of strife. I saw no hints that anyone was interested in anything other than doing his or her own job the best it could be down. Envy and efforts to undermine seemed not to exist. I could be way off but these seemed like secure happy people and, at what I assume were modest wages, they were not being paid to fake it.

This made me thing of the recent books and articles about happiness and about law schools as a place to work. Or put differently, what do Rio Lisboa, Denmark, and Iceland have in common that law schools generally do not. For one thing smallness. It is not smallness per se that counts but the sense that you are in control of what happens in your life and have a real input into more general policies. Knowing what to expect is important. Another thing is the absence of envy. No one worries that someone else is getting more than he or she deserves or that being a butt kisses pays off. A relative lack of a fear of failure. In Iceland, for example, according to one report it is acceptable to fail. It does not define a person more generally. At Rio Lisboa I am sure that if anyone dropped a dish or served the wrong dish both customers and coworkers would have simply smiled about it. At law schools I think people often take pleasure in the bad luck of others.


Admiral said...

One of my favorite authors is the late Nobel Prize-winning Czeslaw Milosz. Though perhaps best known for his poetry these days, his most enduring work to me is The Captive Mind. Perhaps you are familiar with it?

The book chronicles the descent of artists and intellectuals into madness -- i.e. Communism. The book examines the psychological proclivities of the intellectual and the fragility of the ego that make one susceptible to the allure of an ideology like Communism.

Frankly, your post makes me think that law school professors may substantially possess the same psychological characteristics, though they are led to different outcomes... not writing in state-run media so much, or drawing up devastating, oppressive propaganda art. Still, like in the totalitarian regimes of old, they tear at each other out of fear, insecurity, and paranoia. As you write, no one is happy.

Am I grasping for straws? LOL

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Welcome back admiral. I think the question about happy has to be divided up between the job and the environment. The job is something to be happy about. The environment in which it is routinely conducted is something else and there the conditions are right for a great deal of unhappiness. How each school and the people in in react to those conditions differ I am sure. Thus there are probably very unhappy places and some that are pretty happy.

A question that I cannot answer which is raised in your comment is whether people with those psychological proclivities are attracted to the job or are those behaviors adaptations to the environment.