I used to think that I had a unique perspective about my job. Then I read the Letters of Paul and learned that he viewed work in the same way.
In Philippians, Paul boasts that he could live off his fellow churchmen if he wanted to. But Paul insists on working, anyway, to earn his keep.
Paul also observes that worldliness is one of the worst vices a person can have. The events of this life are meaningless and the accomplishments in this life are valueless.
In other words: work hard every day and your job means nothing. To me, there is no contradiction there.
I’ve been doing the same job for my company for more than 20 years. I am motivated by the dignity of labor, not because I think my job is meaningful in any way.
That’s why I have consistently tried to avoid any leadership role within my department. Managers have to care that our productivity and results matter. And I don’t care at all.
To me, becoming a manager would be the opposite of a promotion. It would be more responsibility, more pressure, and more reason for my co-workers to dislike me.
So, what happens when the wrong man gets a promotion and gets crushed under the weight of the anxiety and resentment? “The Caine Mutiny” explores this very topic; it is an insightful meditation on the pitfalls of leadership.
The bad leader in question is US Naval Officer Queeg (Humphrey Bogart). Queeg is captain of the USS Caine: a rusted old minesweeper based in Hawaii. We don’t know whether Queeg was a capable commander at the beginning of the war. But now it’s 1944 and he is cracking up.
Captain Queeg is obsessed with minor rules and details. He requires every sailor to tuck in his shirt and wear a helmet during training exercises.
But when the pressure mounts, Queeg can’t handle it. When the Caine sees its first combat, the captain freaks out and orders a hasty retreat.
After the embarrassing incident, Queeg admits he is having some emotional challenges and asks for help. But the rest of the officers are not sure whether their captain is too far gone. Lieutenant Keefer (Fred MacMurray) quietly suggests that they should relieve crazy Queeg of his command.
After the Captain conducts a ship wide investigation over a bowl of missing strawberries, even the more straight-laced officers begin to see Keefer’s point.
“The Caine Mutiny” is surprisingly intelligent, sophisticated, and grim for a popcorn movie.
Humphrey Bogart is believably neurotic as a bad guy who does not belong in a position of power. And Fred MacMurray is charmingly cynical as a bad guy who refuses to accept any leadership at all.
When does a bad leader have a responsibility to give up his power? How long do loyal underlings have a responsibility to support a weak leader? These are not easy questions and “The Caine Mutiny” is mature enough not to supply easy answers.
All I know is that I’ll always be more of a Lieutenant Keefer than a Captain Queeg. I will work until the day I die. But I have no desire to lead. And I refuse to take my job too seriously.