Monday, February 27, 2012

What is work?

A scene from the movie THE EFFICIENCY EXPERT (SPOTSWOOD). 

Mr. Wallace, a middle aged character played by Anthony Hopkins, comes into the office of Mr. Ball, the 75 year old owner of the Ball Moccasin Factory.  Mr. Ball is played by Alwyn Kurts.  Mr. Ball had hired Mr. Wallace to help him find ways to modernize his company as a way to improve productivity in order to keep the factory operating and his workers employed.  After spending several weeks at the factory, Mr. Wallace has instead concluded that it would be more efficient for Mr. Ball to lay off most of his workers, and outsource his manufacturing operations to Asia. 

Mr. Wallace’s conclusion is based on his observations of the workers who spend more time on breaks sharing stories, working out strategy for the upcoming model slot car race that Mr. Wallace sponsors them in, or pursuing romance with their coworkers; then they do trying to incorporate Mr. Ball’s suggested updates to the manufacturing processes or making moccasins.  In addition, the market for moccasins has passed its peak. 

In the scene, Mr. Ball is seated behind his large wooden desk.  In front of him lies an old baseball, his stack of tobacco pipes, and Mr. Wallace’s report contained in a file folder.  Behind him a brass telescope sits pointing out the window.  Mr. Wallace sits on the other side of the desk and they discuss Wallace’s findings. 

Mr. Ball:  “Robert, Gordon, they’d have to go too.  I’d be losing 60% of my people”

Mr. Wallace:  “The Asians can do it for half the price. Importing is the future.  You simply cannot afford to be in manufacturing.”

Mr. Ball:  “But we must, people need to make things.  We can’t just import everything.”

Mr. Wallace:  “You have been a very kind employer Mr. Ball, but I am afraid your people have let you down.  They haven’t paid you back in kind. 

Mr. Ball:  “No, you’re wrong.  You don’t understand, you never could - with respect Mr. Wallace.  They paid me back double, triple. If you had been here when the place was busy, you’d have seen them working day and night, no over time.  They did it because they believed in the place, and they trusted me.  It’s not their fault, and I won’t have that.”

Mr. Wallace:  “No, it’s your fault.  You haven’t helped these people letting them live in the fool’s paradise.  And what did you think was going to happen in eighteen months’ time when, when you run out of money? "

Mr. Ball:  “You can’t see past the dollars and cents can you?  Work isn’t just about money Mr. Wallace - it’s about dignity.  It’s about treating people with respect.”

Mr. Wallace.  “Mr. Ball, if you want to save any part of this operation, I’d advise you to act immediately.  I’m very sorry.” 

Mr. Ball: “I might wait for a week or so.” 
In the end, Mr. Wallace comes to understand what the Ball Moccasin Factory is really about.  He understands that it is indeed the people that work in the factory that are more important to Mr. Ball than his profits.  It is the relationships, the trust, and the ability to create that makes work a place that people want to come to and spend their day.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Growing Up.

In our Western World, growth is our mantra.  Our schools, our religions, our governments, our businesses, all our institutions bombard us with the same message that to be all that we are meant to be means we have to grow.  Growth in and of itself can be a good thing, but unfortunately the growth that can be our doom is material growth, which has limits.   

So instead of thinking for ourselves - we take these messages literally and we over feed our bodies and become obese; we fill our cities with ever expanding populations, we produce more and more babies filling our planet with people; and to try and meet our never ending demand for more and more stuff, our economies drive us to consume more and more resources.  As a result, there is little space left for anything else but the material expansion of the human race. 

This pure focus on material growth however leaves most of us feeling empty, lonely, hurt, angry, and numbed.  So how did we get this way, why have we forgotten how to think for ourselves?  Richard Rohr’s book FALLINGUPWARD:  A SPIRITUALITY FOR THE TWO HALVES OF LIFE provides a good explanation of why we are stuck in meaningless pattern of growth.  The book points out how healthy cultures value two halves of life, but in our postmodern culture we discourage people from growing up.

In the first half of life, our external laws, traditions, customs, boundaries, and morality form a container that helps to shape who we will become.  They also provide us with the friction we need to move on and develop our own inner guidance systems that lead us beyond these first half of life limited simple guidelines that fall apart in our complex world.  As we move through life and experience the struggles that life throws at us - our brushes with the law, our failed relationships, and our other failures - we begin to realize that simple rules and regulations, or escapes, do not isolate us from the struggles in life, or the pain they bring us. 

It is by embracing these falls – these failures - that we begin to see the limits of first half of life thinking.  We learn to live in tension, instead of searching for ways to avoid it.  We learn to transition from conditional love based on compliance, into an unconditional love based on connection.   Instead of repeating mistakes over and over again, we embrace our mistakes and learn to try new ways.   That is how real growth occurs - not by clinging to old ways, old rules, or old moralities.  That is how we move beyond the limits of our egocentric first half of life.   

Our institutions and the people who make them up, are stuck in the first half of life management methods.  They discourage real growth by imposing methods designed to keep people stuck, to keep systems in place, to keep certain people in places of power.  It just might be that the friction that all this control produces, is reaching a point where the resulting heat can melt down these immature structures of hierarchy.  And from the ashes we can rise up to reclaim our second half of life – to really grow up. 

As Rohr reminds us:  “no one can keep you from the second half of your own life except yourself.  Nothing can inhibit your second journey except your own lack of courage, patience, and imagination.   Your second journey is all yours to walk or to avoid.  […], some falling apart of the first journey is necessary for this to happen, so do not waste a moment of time lamenting poor parenting, lost job, failed relationship, physical handicap, gender identity, economic poverty , or even the tragedy of any kind of abuse.  Pain is part of the deal.  If you don’t walk into the second half of your own life, it is you who do not want it.”