I was a lifeguard/swimming instructor all through my university years. This job was a logical extension of my love of water–I am after all a Pisces. I had spent all my summers from grade three onwards being a pool rat at my local swimming pool. I passed all the swimming levels that were available for my age by the time I was 12 (only failing Intermediate level once because I had difficulty mastering whip kick) and then throughout my teen years took advanced aquatic courses until I had all the certifications I needed to work as a lifeguard/swimming instructor. Hooray! A well-paid job that combines work with an activity I love.
However, once I got that job as a lifeguard/instructor I was a little shocked to find that a love of water is a bit more removed from the practice of working around water than one might expect. Indeed, I discovered that the goal of most of the people employed in this field was never to get wet at all. Now, for the actual lifeguarding part I understand that. If you are getting wet that means you’re having to do a rescue and that probably means you weren’t running your pool very well in the first place. A good guard tries to keep the pool patrons from endangering themselves well before they are in any danger. “Hey, kid, you don’t look you’re very comfortable in the water, I’d like you to stay in the shallow end.” That is a good guard. Observant. Sets parameters to keep the patrons safe.
Where the it became odd for me was in the swimming lessons arena. Status was gained by having the most number of consecutive classes which you could teach while staying on dry land. The jargon for swimming lesson was “wet class” or “dry class” As in “I have 5 wet classes and only 3 dry ones” If you were assigned 5 or more low level pre-school classes (always a wet class) that meant you were either low on the totem pole, or simply not well-liked by the head guards. Worse, was if you were assigned a wet class followed by a dry class, followed by a wet class, followed by a dry class. That meant the head guards were messing with you–the Teabagging Water Torture. Teaching a dry class right after a wet class means that you stand shivering on the deck for half an hour while trying to wring out your damp towel enough that it might give a modicum of dryness and warmth.
And while I seem to be arguing against my point, I’m not. It’s not really that bad. The water is warm, although the initial shock can lead you to believe otherwise. You learn to bring two towels or build a relationship with the head guards to warm your towel up in the boiler room.
It was my first (but not the last) experience of how a key ingredient in a job can become removed through culture.
I recently encountered it again, where a group of people with a certain job title, stopped doing one of the key aspects of the job and were shocked and not a little p-o’d when requested to take it up again. The astounding part of this for me is that if you were to ask a focus group of ten people to write a job description for this job based on their perceptions of what people who hold this job do, there would be about five items that all ten of these people would put down. One of these five would be the task this group was no longer doing. It’s that obvious.
It’s a common belief that we human beings try to make our beliefs and our actions synch up. We rationalize our behaviour. We act according to our beliefs. We don’t like to believe one way and act in another. And yes, I’ve certainly seen that. I have also experienced the exact opposite. It is entirely possible to believe one thing and act in contradiction to that belief. It is also possible to hold two entirely contradictory beliefs and still be okay with that. I like being a swimming teacher. I don’t like being in a pool.
As Walt Whitman said so succinctly
Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)