Observations About the 2022 Mid-Term Elections
As a person who majored in political science and has been engaged actively in public
I saw the movie Up in the Air recently, and, aside from experiencing it as a first-rate piece of entertainment, I found it to be subtle and brilliant in addressing issues I confront in my life.
In it, George Clooney plays an executive named Ryan Bingham, who works for a company that enters into contracts with large employers that have neither the will nor the skill to handle mass terminations themselves, so they outsource them to Bingham’s firm. The subject matter is painful because the devastation of losing a job has hit so many households. I had this type of experience back in1978 when my law firm told me I would not be offered a partnership.
However, the more interesting aspect of the movie is the way Bingham leads his life. He travels over 320 days of travel a year, and has built a life in which he gets treated exceptionally well by airlines, hotels, and other service firms, and he has temporary relationships on the road that require no deep emotional commitments. He has successfully avoided having to deal with the messiness of a family life or maintaining a substantial home base. In fact, his one-bedroom apartment in Omaha, Nebraska, appears unoccupied, because it is so sparsely furnished.
Not surprisingly, one subtext of the movie is how messy reality intrudes itself into his antiseptic, perfect life. The first intrusion comes from a young female manager who attempts to dismantle the whole process of having executives travel to terminate employees, by substituting termination conversations by video teleconference. Although she first appears to be a person who needs no emotional support, she ends up requiring significant support from Bingham as her relationship with her boyfriend sours. The second intrusion comes from Bingham’s two sisters, one who is getting married and the other who is separating from her husband. The third intrusion comes from what initially looks like a casual relationship with a woman named Alex, for whom Bingham develops a deeper emotional attraction, but whom he discovers is uninterested in a deeper relationship.
My life bears no resemblance to what Bingham is experiencing. However, I ponder why Bingham would find the life he leads attractive, and I can understand it at some level:
If I were to describe my past year relative to these points, I would make the following observations:
I found that leaving the Chairman and CEO positions reduced some demands on me, but spawned many others, and that I was unevenly equipped to deal with them. I expected that some people would approach me to serve on boards, to make charitable contributions, to invest in their businesses, or to give them career advice. To a degree, these demands were manageable.
However, I learned that my post Pitney Bowes life was not one in which I could substantially control the demands made on me:
health care issues, is far more complicated. I thought it was because I lacked a power base in terms of money, size of organization that I led, or political connections, especially when I watched CEOs, union leaders, lobbyists, and trade association presidents get face time with government officials. However, many of these high-powered people have expressed extreme disappointment that their efforts were wasted, unless they intended to make sure nothing happened.
I am very energized by the many exciting things on which I am working, including my evolving effort to become a broad and deep expert in health, particularly the social determinants of health, and my efforts to break into the entertainment industry.
Nevertheless, there are times when the Ryan Bingham world seems very attractive because of its simplicity, its clear linkages between behaviors and rewards, and its lack of pressure. I would never want that world, but I can understand better the psyche of those who seek it out.