I try to put a night’s sleep between me and what’s bothering me, and last night I did just that.
And I woke up early, 5:35 a.m. early. Before the alarm clock early. 45 minutes before it went off early.
I woke up with a very clear question on my mind and the need to rewatch a Tim Minchin commencement address I recently viewed. He said many good things in the video but it was what he said about power that I specifically wanted to listen to again this morning.
“Respect people with less power than you. I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with – agents, producers – big decisions based largely on how they treat the wait staff in the restaurants we are having the meeting in. I don’t care if you are the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful.”
Tim Minchin would not work where I work.
And I am struggling working there.
I have used the word contempt to describe how the management treats its least powerful and it sickens me. I don’t say that to be dramatic either.
When I see those who can, not, only because they feel they don’t have to, that sickens me.
And I understand why labor unions were formed – to give the least powerful a voice against those who yield the power.
Only the union becomes its own form of power because it becomes its own institution and then sadly it does what institutions do, what David Halberstam so eloquently wrote in The Best and the Brightest – it becomes an organization that exists to feed itself. The union becomes its own power structure with the top once again feeding off the bottom.
So I feel I am in this position, like an anti-union Norma Rae. I see conditions and treatment around me that are unsatisfactory, stupid, deplorable even, and I wish to be heard. I wish I could change things for what I feel would be for the better. For isn’t treating people with respect always better?
And I wonder, is the idea of treating people with respect just an idea?
It is just one of those swell ideas you are raised with and hear in graduation speeches, but in life, in real life, out there in the world do such ideas become sardines, hanging out near the bottom of the food chain, getting swallowed up by the bigger fish?
For I feel there “ain’t no way” I could really make a positive difference in the situation I am in. When I speak I am most definitely not heard.
The leaders of my organization take false pride from words which read, “Our mission is to put Judeo-Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.” (I added the italics on the for all.) yet privately I refer to them as “Graduates of the Simon Legree School of Management.”
This is not a good thing.
It is on the far end of the continuum from good actually. In the sleazy world of insults, it’s a whopper, but after more than three and a half years of close observation of the leadership it is not a cheap shot, but sadly accurate.
When, several years ago I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, upon reading the following paragraph I was compelled to pause and reflect. Good grief, I thought, this is how my organization sees its front line people.
The following is that paragraph found on page 338. It is an exchange between a stranger and Simon Legree.
“And how long do they (Simon Legree’s slaves) last?” said the stranger.
“Well, donno; ‘cordin” as their constitution is. Stout fellers last six or seven years; trashy ones gets worked up in two or three. I used to, when I fust begun, have considerable trouble fussin’ with ‘em and trying to make ‘em hold out, – doctorin’ on ‘em up when they’s sick, and givin’ on ‘em clothes and blankets, and what not, tryin’ to keep ‘em all sort o’ decent and comfortable. Law, ’twasn’t no sort o’ use; I lost money on ‘em, and ’twas heaps o’ trouble. Now, you see, I just put ‘em straight through, sick or well. When one’s dead, I buy another and I find it comes cheaper and easier, every way.”
So see, the question I woke up with this morning is this, in the real world, or at least, my world, who is right, Tim Minchin or Simon Legree? Respect or contempt? And if Minchin is right, which of course I so want to believe he is, is there any way I can bring respect to an environment sickened by contempt?
Watch Tim Minchin’s 2013 UWA Address.