People in glass houses …

“Only those who keep their wit and affections about them will survive the mass conditioning of the Organization, where confusion solemnly rules and conformity is king. As in our world itself, humanity prevails in the courage, love, and laughter of singular spirits–of men and women for whom life is an adventure no Organization can quell, and whose souls remain their own.” This from the blurb of Shirley Hazzard’s 1967 novel People in Glass Houses.

I remember a while back Kofi Annan saying: “Some of you may remember the thought-provoking book written more than 30 years ago by ex-United Nations staffer Shirley Hazzard, entitled, aptly, People in Glass Houses. She points out that it is difficult to believe completely in an enterprise that requires one’s own diminution. ” (This is quoted from a 1999 UN press release.)

Back then, at the time of that press release, I was midway into a career in a specialized agency of the UN System and began to stop believing. Oh, yes, I believed in the ideals of the organization, but daily life to my mind was beginning to scrape at the way things were done in the name of those ideals. Not overtly, just the little things that add up and give an acrid taste to the word “fonctionnaire”.

Hazzard went on to write Defeat of an Ideal (published in 1973) and Countenance of Truth (published in 1990). Since and before then she wrote other works, notably The Transit of Venus (1980) and her latest novel, the magnificent The Great Fire (2003); today, she even may have been able to move on from thoughts triggered by her UN days.

As for me, it’s early days yet; I can still taste the word “fonctionnaire” and dearly hope that one day soon I’ll be able to move on, too.

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