Knowing when you’re at the tea party

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, the Walt Disney animated adaption of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world.

Alice eventually stumbles upon a tea party where she meets the Hatter (sometimes known as the Mad Hatter) and the March Hare.

The tea party is a chaotic affair characterised by everyone switching places on the table at any given time, making short, personal remarks, asking unanswerable riddles and reciting nonsensical poetry. [1]

Leaving the tea party

I feel like I’m leaving the tea party.

Working in central government has been exciting but also, at times, ridiculous. All of the things above.

I’m slowly realising how much I will need to adjust back to working life outside the civil service after I leave.

Something that struck me when I was thinking about leaving is how we slowly adapt to our surrounding. With enough exposure, the ridiculous becomes normal and the normal ridiculous.

We start to accept the madness and things that seem crazy at first becomes normalised.

This isn’t just the civil service, it’s many of our great institutions and large organisations that lose sight of who they are and the purpose for what they do. They all disappear down a rabbit hole over time without anyone really noticing.

I’ve explained to a few people recently that I realised how I was becoming less concerned about things I would of called out in the past. Maybe I just wasn’t noticing anymore. The bureaucracy and idiosyncrasies of process and outcomes at work start to becomes normal, you begin to accept them.

This is why it’s healthy to move on. It’s healthy to think hard about how long you stay in any single organisation or institution. When it comes to government, I’m not convinced that encouraging life long careers in the civil service is healthy, but it’s a great way to have a tea party.

Eating the cake

It’s important to say that nothing changes unless we’re first willing to go to the tea party. To join the madness, then challenge or find ways to work with it. Real change starts from inside organisations.

Sometimes you have to experience something to realise just how ridiculous it is. This becomes the starting point for future change.

Drinking the tea

I drink too much tea (fact). And coffee. It’s easy to forget when you’re drinking too much tea. Also, no one ever says that there’s too much cake (also a fact).

Eventually the madness of the tea party makes Alice run away. She recognises just how dangerous the madness is.

Everyone needs a little madness and mischief. The problem with tea parties is they all deceive themselves into thinking they’re normal.

[1] Source: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatter_(Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland)

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