Rex Huppke has an excellent weekly column at the Chicago Tribune. I read it yesterday, as I do every Monday. I’ve been reading it since it began a few years back, and his words never fail to resonate. After over two decades of working with the public, and often in large corporate-structure retail-and-service-industry positions, most of which had far more in common politically with the dreaded Dilbert-style cubicle farm than many of you may realize, I can tell you quite frankly that Rex knows of what he speaks. People need to be treated like, well, people. If more bosses/managers/supervisors took his theories to heart, a lot more people would love their jobs.
And it is SO SIMPLE.
Rex’s philosophy, in 5 words? “Be a Decent Human Being.” His column, I Just Work Here, focuses upon best strategies to navigate all manner of workplace interactions, and his advice has this nifty feature wherein it always translates well to everyday life. Rex offers a self-deprecating sense of humor which alternates with self-aggrandizement, tongue squarely planted in cheek.
This deft combination makes me grin with each new installment; I honestly look forward to reading his take on whatever aspect of workplace politics or “can you believe there are still people who need to be told this?” which he elects to discuss in a given week. And, while he certainly has no idea who I am, his column has become such a fixture of my routine that I feel confident in declaring he’s not some self-absorbed business guru with a byline, but, rather, the 21st century counterpart to another favorite writer of mine: Laura Ingalls Wilder. And because of that, it seems perfectly logical that I think of him as some long-lost college buddy from that class that time, who I haven’t talked to in ages but would seek out at the reunion if I even bothered to go. My buddy Rex, you remember…
Wait, what? What does this MBA-type business column guy have to do with…did you say, Laura Ingalls Wilder?
Yes. Yes I did.
What does my imaginary buddy Rex have to do with Laura, you say? Well, nothing. And, everything.
You see, Rex Huppke is the kind of writer who talks to his readers like, well, people. And he relates to them in everyday terms, discussing everyday issues, with honesty, humor, and solid intentions to make a positive impact on the lives of those people. As someone who has spent a good three quarters of her life learning anything and everything I can find about the multi-faceted Mrs. Wilder, to the point where I now spend much of my professional life in a newish-to-me career presenting educational first-person interpretation programs as the author whose friends knew her as Bessie, I am of the conviction that she–Laura– did much the same in her own work, nay, in her life, as the humble Rex does today.
How so, you say? Let’s see…
Laura took bad situations and turned them into experiences, learning what she could and striving for better. She did a lot of tough, down-in-the-trenches work. She knew better than to count her chickens or rest on her laurels, even if she did occasionally express herself in cliché. She did her best to help, and to inspire, others. Whether writing a poultry column for the St. Louis Star, or penning a quick note home to her beloved Manly, describing the wonders she witnessed at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition while visiting with their daughter, the up-and-coming Rose Wilder Lane, Laura had meaningful thoughts to share, and was known to share freely when she felt it mattered. Laura took education seriously, so much so that she sometimes sounded apologetic for never having been “graduated from anything.” Yet, she was so self-educated that she became known locally as an active clubwoman who read voraciously and encouraged her neighbors to share their intellectual persuits in the Eastern Star, the Athenians, and “Justamere” Club. On a regional level, her farm columns for the Missouri Ruralist offered tips on progressive farming and housekeeping as well as underscoring civic duty and fostering tolerance of one’s adversaries. Eventually, her mildly fictionalized series of children’s books became a fixture in homes and classrooms across the country–and are translated and enjoyed in dozens of languages around the world.
But all of this homespun goodness can be boiled down to a pretty simple philosophy and approach to one’s inner life and outer responsibilities. Do your work, but find joy in simple pleasures. Do everything to the best of your ability, but don’t be afraid of failure. Stand up for what you think is right, but allow yourself to feel empathy for others, even if you disagree. In short, Rex and Laura offer the same message, albeit in different contexts and different centuries: Be a Decent Human Being. And any person with a philosophy like that is well worth knowing. Or, at least, admiring publicly for a moment.
Find Rex Huppke’s work here: