Waiting for Content

by Nancy Ford Dugan

They came in the night and took our values.

Someone (in the mailroom? from the cleaning service?) stripped all the plexiglass stands on each desk of the teal-blue sheet of paper that proudly listed all our corporate values.

We were puzzled to come in predawn to start our global conference calls and find them missing. We didn’t realize it at first. We were too tired. But amid the sinking foam on our lattes, a slow buzzing of recognition went around the open office, a sharing of empty plexiglass stands, confirming that everyone, not just some, had their values pried away overnight.

“Does this mean we have no values now? What a relief!” we joked quietly, not wanting them to hear us convening or chortling. We asked each other:

Can we run amok?

Anything goes now?

No need to conduct ourselves with Integrity, Respect, Commitment, etc.?

Who do you suppose yanked them?

We asked the mailroom guy, who got nervous and seemed to know something. Who asked you to take them? we persevered, but realized we put him on the spot and charitably stopped. We still had some core values of our own, and not over-grilling the mailroom guy was one of them.


We lived our lives in open offices. Some of us recalled offices with doors, and some did not.

Now we all sat in one big open space, where it was impossible to reflect or think clearly or deeply. It was possible to call out to each other, disturbing others, to get things done. Not important things. But things. All things were urgent. A sense of Urgency was one of the values. Or at least it had been.

Now that all the values had been removed, we wondered what if anything would replace them. Of if they would replace them.

If they planned to replace them, why, we wondered, wouldn’t they simply leave the original values in place, in our plexiglass stands, until the new values were ready to take over?

We felt in limbo, unsure how to act.

We thought it must have been a pain for the mailroom guy to remove the values since the teal-blue sheet of paper was wedged into the tiny vertical slot of each plexiglass stand, just so. Did he have to tilt each one to get it out? Maybe he used a letter opener or paper clip to grab hold of it.

We could now see straight through the plexiglass stands. They looked kind of lonely without the values in them. We left them on our desks, where they stood irretrievably forlorn and waiting for content. Those of us on the room’s rim, lucky enough to have a windowsill, kept them in the sun, eager for something to grow inside them. Surely we needed some values. Didn’t we? But when? When would they arrive? What should we do in the meantime?

The office grew quiet without them. People didn’t know why they were taken or how to react. Was it a test? Should we alert someone they had been stolen? But who should we tell? The mailroom guy’s behavior made us question our next move.

Should we quietly wait for new values?

Should we show initiative and write new ones? Or refresh the old ones that were not that bad, really, when you think about it.

Some of us thought we should pick up our things and work from home until we had values.

Others thought we should keep our heads down and continue to do our jobs with or without values.

Someone thought we should alert the Wellness Committee, since the missing values were causing undue stress and anxiety in the workplace.

Ultimately, we wanted to know if the values would eventually be replaced. And if so, would they be values we could handle?

Or were the values intentionally gone for good? And what did that mean, exactly? Could we start bullying each other? Not that we wanted to, but was that now an option? Was Respect now out the window? Urgency? Could we now be lackadaisical?

Everything was in disorder without our values.

Who could help us?

Do you have any suggestions? If so, please contact us immediately.

Thank you.

Courtesy was one of the old values. Will it remain? Who knows?

Until then, have a good day. We do appreciate your kind support.


Nancy Ford Dugan‘s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (in 2012 and 2013) and has appeared in over 30 publications. She lives in New York City and previously resided in Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, DC.

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