Words Have Meaning (Or at Least They Used To….)
We’re all yelling at each other and no one knows WTF anyone else is talking about.
A few years ago, I had the strange experience of accepting a job at a company run by Scientologists. That’s a story for another day, but…nevermind.
I’ll just tell you.
So in 2016, I moved to Sacramento with my now ex-husband. (The whole being married, secretly, for six months is definitely a story for another day.) My goals upon arriving in my new home/city were reasonable.
- Figure out WTF the “danger box” outside our bedroom window was doing, and whether or not it was dangerous. (Yet another story for later.)
- Get two job offers.
I’d always been subject to the fatal flaw in interviewing for jobs as someone who can get excited about virtually anything. The “fatal flaw” was believing the interviewers when they told me things like, “every day will be different,” or other lies about what the day-to-day of [insert yet another day job] would be like.
In other words, I have a tendency to see the possibility in any situation, so I’ve said yes to a bunch of jobs I should have said no to.
So, I thought I’d fix this by making sure that I had exactly two job offers. I liked the idea of two companies fighting for my time and attention, begging me to accept their money in exchange for my talent.
Spoiler Alert: I succeeded and got two offers
The spoiler here should really be that I made the same mistake I always do, and accepted a job I immediately realized I did not want.
Part of the reason I accepted that first job was because the second one was a job at a company run by people apparently very involved in the Church of Scientology, and I was…not entirely comfortable with this.
Here’s the story about how I found out Company Two was run by Scientologists: I made yet another mistake.
I googled someone and learned things ahead of my final interview that I really, truly did not want to know.
The company is/was run by a husband and wife team. Apparently the wife likes to be the person to do final interviews, so after a series of interviews with various members of my future team and the rest of the company, I was faced with the final hoop I needed to jump through.
Interview with the founder’s wife.
So, I did what any diligent job applicant would do the night before my interview. (And, of course, I did it at the last possible moment. Leaving me no time to unsee what I saw when I googled this woman. So I walked into this interview terrified and trying to comfort myself with some internal narrative about “diversity.”)
Basically, the only thing I was able to learn from googling her name was the fact that she’d been involved with the Church of Scientology since she was a teenager.
This is not was I was expecting.
The interview was less weird than you would think. It went relatively well.
I got the offer.
I didn’t bring up Scientology.
I managed to behave professionally even though I was really, really weirded out by the fact that I was meeting an actual Scientologist in person.
(To my knowledge, this was the first and only time I’ve met one. She seemed normal, I guess? Mainly I was just really uncomfortable and had a LOT of questions that I was too afraid to ask.)
I accepted the non-Scientologist job offer first (and immediately regretted this decision)
Mainly because my pros and cons list for these two jobs consisted of “work for people with weird creepy religion” and “work with people who may also be Scientologists but at least I don’t know for sure,” I accepted the job with Company One.
I worked with them for one day and realized this job was not for me. So…I emailed them after less than a week and let them know I’d be returning the parking access card and…well, I wouldn’t be returning to work.
(Side note: the highly unprofessional email I received in response to this decision underscored that I’d dodged a bullet.)
So, I went to work with the Scientologists
For the most part, no one talked about Scientology, which made me even more nervous because I genuinely didn’t know if I was being recruited.
I still don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. I’m pretty sure this was a legit, and genuinely excellent company. I was only there for a few months due to my personal life falling apart, getting divorced (after 5 months of a secret marriage) and moving to Italy for Father-Daughter-Divorce-Sobriety-Boot-Camp, which is yet another story for another day.
In the brief time I worked for Company Two, however, I had the pleasure of working with the most organized and effective marketing team I’ve ever been fortunate enough to meet. In my training, I managed to contribute work that was actually useful (vs. just the training assignments I was supposed to be working on).
I was also exposed to the Kanban system of project management, which was fantastic. If you haven’t used this Kanban before, let me tell you: there is nothing more motivating than moving post-it notes across a white board.
The post-it notes are probably the reason I got so much done in the brief time I was at Company Two. But we’re not here to talk about post-it notes and the truly hypnotic level of focus and motivation that moving your post-it note down the board from “pending” to “DONE” can provide.
We’re here to talk about words and how defining them is critical to effective communication
How do we get from Scientology to effective communication, you ask? Great question! I would be confused, too, if I hadn’t already lived the somewhat convoluted story I’m trying to share with you right now.
So, as I said, for the most part my job at Company Two did not seem to be some roundabout way of recruiting me into the Church of Scientology. Nobody talked about the fact that the co-founders wife had been actively involved in the Church of Scientology since age 15, which was the only thing I’d been able to glean about her background while trying to research her, and to this day I’m uncertain whether she was the only Scientologist or if everyone was a Scientologist.
Again, I kept telling myself that I was…meeting new people. Experiencing new things. There’s nothing to be afraid of…something something diversity.
The whole thing was weird. Aside from not knowing who was and was not a Scientologist at that company, and really wanting to ask but having no idea if that was advisable or not (oh and also being responsible for an update to the employee handbook because after hiring me with purple hair, they decided that purple hair was no longer acceptable because I might freak out the clients and yes, I ended up re-dying my hair to a less exciting color due to the new rule that had been added to the handbook literally because they told me it was fine and then hired me despite the purple hair), I learned something really f*cking useful from working at this company.
Okay, so here’s the only thing about Scientology that did come up in the job. They didn’t talk about the fact that at least one person was a Scientologist, or about religion or Scientology in general, but my first assignment upon starting the job was to read a book by L. Ron Hubbard himself, referred to internally as his “Management Technologies.”
Apparently Company Two had paid a bunch of money to license these Management Technologies, and every employee was required to read The Book. I think it was a sort of distillation of what appears to be a series of books by Mr. Hubbard about…management and stuff.
Here’s the description of Volume One from GoodReads:
The Management Series volumes contain revolutionary breakthroughs in how to organize, establish and operate any activity or group. Modern man has no real system of logic or rational thinking and thus reaches wrong conclusions and takes incorrect actions. The logic system contained in this series enables anyone to find the exact reason for any problem or situation, no matter how large, and open the door to handling it.
So I spent the first week or so at this new company, in a mostly empty office, sitting in the dark reading a book by L. Ron Hubbard and questioning every life decision I’d made that led me to this point.
(In case you’re wondering: I was sitting alone in the dark because I chose the work schedule that allowed me to sleep in as long as possible and therefore required me to stay at the office until 6pm, after most people had left and also after the lights automatically turned off. The company was growing, so we had more office space than was technically required, which honestly just added to the overall experience of pretending I’m “experiencing diversity” and wondering if I’d accidentally just signed a contract to join a cult.)
Shocking Twist: The L. Ron Hubbard book was…actually kind of good. I learned things. Useful ones!
There’s significant value in having every employee at a company read the same book. When you’re all working from the same source text, whether it’s Good to Great or this particular book by L. Ron Hubbard, you’re all speaking the same language.
And this is what I want to reinforce with this largely unrelated story about my brief time possibly joining the Church of Scientology by way of an excellent job at what I’m pretty sure is and was a genuinely great company.
(Yes, it still concerns me that I don’t know if I was being recruited.)
Anyway. About the book.
My first observation was that Mr. Hubbard kept defining terms that were, or should be, obvious to anyone who’s been in business for more than a few months. Things like “crossed wires” and “wearing many hats” and other generic jargon from cubicle-land that we all know and understand.
We all know and understand these words… Right?
That’s the question. Or at least it was the question until I made the mistake of trying to google something and now I am genuinely unsure whether or not I was being recruited.
Actual Twist: Oh, how I regret this new google search (seriously, was I being brainwashed?)
Okay, this is getting long. Let’s pause this for now, because I swear I really do have a point to make and it’s about racism and politics and communication and the importance of defining terms in order to have shared understanding and useful dialogue.
At least I thought I had a point, but I made the critical error of making yet another innocent (but regrettable) google search.
Right now, I need to go read more about Bridge Publications (definitely the publisher of the book I was required to read) and whether or not I might have picked up any, um, brainwashing that I might want to be aware of.
Once again, I regret an innocent google search that led to this new rabbit hole, which begins with Scientology’s Fraudulent Study Technology:
All five books are published by Bridge Publications and distributed by
Applied Scholastics International (ASI). The latter is in turn part
of the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE). "The
Bridge" is Scientology's term for its series of religious training and
counseling courses; Bridge Publications is Scientology's publishing
house. And ASI and ABLE are Scientology front groups formed and
controlled by the Church. This raises the question of whether Smith
and the other supporters of Study Technology are attempting to use
public funds for religious instruction.
Okay. So I definitely read a book published by a front group for Scientology.
Honestly, these people are kind of impressive. Maybe I do want to join? Nah, that’s probably just the brainwashing speaking. Or is it?
Next in the rabbit hole: Mockingbird’s Nest.
I’m apparently going to be awake for a while…
Stay tuned for part two:
Did I have a point or was I actually being brainwashed?
Or, do words have meaning or nah?