Hey, he’s gone postal. Here he comes. Looka them guns. Looka them eyes!
The image is probably clear in your mind. An armed, deranged person is opening fire on a room full of people. That’s what “Going Postal” has come to mean.
I can tell you about the origin of the term because my wife—during her twenty-several years with the U.S. Postal service—watched it all happen.
It’s a matter of something called “Corporate Culture.” All organizations develop a culture. The bigger they become and the longer they exist, the more inflexible the culture becomes.
The U.S. Postal service is a huge and ancient entity. As is frequently the case with older organizations, ignoring problems (or sweeping them under the carpet) is part of their culture.
As the union representative and custodian of the grievance file, my wife was in a prime position to view the damage done by the Postal Service’s unwritten policy of ignoring problems: An illustrative case is that of a postal supervisor who had twenty-seven sexual harassment grievances filed against him. What did the Postal Service do? They moved him to a different location.
Moving problems around never solves anything. Although it may quiet things down for awhile, the problem will resurface in the new location—often with added ugliness. Consider the following case:
One day, postal employee L.B. showed up for work announcing that he had a firearm in the trunk of his car and intended to mow everybody down. Fortunately, the building was evacuated before he did anything further. It is no wonder that everyone at that facility refused to return to work as long as L.B. was employed there. What did the Postal Service do? They moved him to the facility at which my wife was employed. Since L.B. had threatened mass murder and jumped slick, he felt invincible. Instead of doing his job, he started running a real estate scam out of the post office. When Crispy Creame donuts came to Denver, he took three hours off to visit the new store. He was haughty and abusive to his co-workers even though they were taking up the slack he left. You can imagine how frustrated they became. Their only hope was to cause a stink that would get him moved on. But, by this time, he had become sly enough to do whatever he wanted without giving the people he was exploiting ammunition to file a grievance against him. It’s no wonder that people working in a situation like this go crazy. Fortunately, my wife had the satisfaction of seeing him—in handcuffs—marched through her office by federal marshals before he actually drove anybody postal. It seems he had done the one thing that the Postal Service will deal with. He’d tampered with the mail.
L.B.’s case is by no means unique. The corporate culture of the U.S. Postal service has created an environment in which people put more effort into working the system than actually working. Such an environment breeds craziness. In the early eighties, a postal employee went bonkers, brought a gun to work, and shot the place up. It was probably the first time anything like this had happened. Subsequent occurrences made it look like something peculiar to the Postal System, so it was dubbed “Going Postal.” Unfortunately, these actions were the harbinger of mass shootings at schools and places of employment. Still, “Going Postal” has become the colloquial term for a person who has been driven crazy by the malfunction of a corporate culture. It’s a pity that an institution with a mandate as noble as that of the U.S. Postal service should have this distinction.
This discourse begs a postscript: Recent actions by our most august institution, the RCMP, have revealed that its culture is badly flawed. What do we do? In a bold, decisive, move to “By Gwad, fix things,” the new commissioner has ordered new pants for all the Mounties.