Comments 11

On Kindness, Contempt and Working for Graduates of the Simon Legree School of Management

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.

He said,

“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.

Good concept.

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.



This entry was posted in: reflect


Hi, I'm Charlotte and armed with the experience 24 years of marriage, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 8 homes and a closet full of power tools brings, I come here to share how the processes of raising my kids and transforming my home raised and transformed me.


  1. I believe in the “respect people” thing. Mahatma Gandhi said that if you want to find out the true character of a person, observe how he treats the people below him in rank or social status!! Bang on right he was!! :)

    • Absolutely! Oh my, it’s telling isn’t it, when you watch some people! Well I want to promote and hopefully am a model of respect. If I do that, then I have done well in life. I’m so glad you wrote. – tonight I’m going to see Ritesh Batra’s film The Lunchbox. I have been looking forward to seeing it and well it made me think of you! :-)

      • The Lunchbox is a wonderful movie, not a typical song and dance Bollywood movie but one with a simple story which also shows typically the life of average middle class people living in big metros like Mumbai!! Hope you enjoyed it!! :)

      • Oh I did! It was wonderful and simple me, well I like a simple story. I like character development and getting to understand someone, their motivations and their circumstances – the movie did just that. And all the location shots gave me a sense of a place I have never been to before. It was two hours very well spent. :-)

  2. Hmm, don’t know the answer to your dilemma, but sadly enough, I have experienced the effects of power to the powerless. Working in an environment with nothing short of a “caste system” in effect, I can appreciate your frustration. I put up with it for far too long….I finally quit after 17 1/2 years, but I’m still suffering from the side effects.
    I guess what we can do is, start by reaching the ones we touch, and hope it spreads like a wildfire :)
    Hang in there Charlotte – you are not alone!

    • Thank you, Becky. It fascinates me really, like an anthropologist or sociologist… how we say certain things, how we have countless faiths, institutions built on myths and fantastical stories, how we have created such complex systems and take such pride in behaviors, yet so often, when eyes are open, when we really observe, we see how we practice very little of what we say is ideal. The study of history and observation confirms this. That of course is not to say that there are moments and individuals who are standard deviations above the human norm and its those people, those who can see the simpleness of kindness and live it rather than just speak of it I seek. Does that make sense? Because as you say, the others do harm. I know you are in a better place, a principled place and I am quite sure you feel its positive effects daily. :-)

      • Careful Charlotte – the study of human nature is a crazy place :) Why we say and do what we do? Well…I guess we are all messed up at some level, but by God’s Grace, we can forgive, and learn to realize that we are all imperfect people, living in a very imperfect world. Forgive, move on, and learn from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others, and hopefully, prayerfully, don’t make those same mistakes again. :)
        And…when all else fails….take yourself to that beautiful place by the lake and relax and soak it all in.
        Blessings to you my friend – I hope you find peace in the the midst of all your searching.

      • Thank you my friend. All is well in my little world. I do though enjoy taking situations such as this one that I see as wrong and speaking up about them. I like questioning and not accepting situations because it is what people say I should do but because I first gave them my time and careful contemplation. I do accept human beings as the animals we are. I accept, for the most part, our nature and the nature of the world in which we live. I have left the job I wrote about in this post. I decided unemployment is far better than spending my days with people who believe respect is a one way street. I tried to be heard and when my voice was silenced I accepted I could not change the situation, nor could I ask for those people to change – they are who they are and apparently very content with who they are, but what I could do was leave, and leave I did. There is indeed peace. Thank you again for your kind words. :-)

  3. Your description of unions rings true to my experience – working for the state of NY, “my” union was invisible to me until a rep was on the phone telling me the state had cut my position (along with many others) with no emotion or concern whatsoever, like an automaton…I’m sorry your work situation is so unpleasant – I’ve had many unpleasant relationships with bosses over the years but currently things are very different in a new job I have…people are treated with great respect. But in another job (which I also still have! two jobs these days!) staff comes and goes as easily as the Legree description, with rarely a notice from the administration. It’s not all good or all bad out there of course, but certainly some situations are so much worse/better than others. And it’s really hard to be a lone voice for doing what’s right. If you want to go that route I almost think you have to do it just for yourself, and not expect any result. Sigh…

    • Ouch! What a punch in the gut! What happened to you really did bring home the union experience. Fortunately I have not had such an experience, only observation. Work is work, I tried to make a change, I tried speaking out, I even blew the whistle (now that was an experience and another whole story) about the large amount of fraud happening. My manager did listen, I watched as she witnessed exactly what I said was happening happen, but in the end nothing happened. I saw how change takes effort and how some don’t, or maybe can’t, make the effort. She mentioned again and again she had just three more years till retirement.She didn’t want to make the effort or make the waves. Her interests trumped any further action. That was her decision to make. She apologized to me up and down, she made excuses and then ultimately she continued complaining about the same problems. As nice as a person as she is, she was a terrible manager and the management above her were, I will mince no words, arrogant doucbe bags. It wasn’t about me, they didn’t even know me, but it was about respect and their complete lack of respect for their lowest ranked employees. Just don’t understand, and really kinda glad I can’t understand. It doesn’t cost more to treat people with respect, actually in the long run I think it probably saves money, but not everybody sees it that way I have learned. And learn I did. I learned about what I can take and what I can’t. I have learned to trust my instincts because they were spot on years ago, I just thought things could or would change. But I am glad I tried to effect change. I learned to speak up, I am glad I blew the whistle, I am glad I saw something that wasn’t right and tried to make it better for a whole group of people. Here I am just babbling away. Sorry. But I liked what you said, about how one of your work environments is a respectful environment. I like to think you can feel that respect. That when you know you are going there you feel good about that. I like thinking that you are happy. It makes a difference, respect, and I hope that I don’t ever forget the experience I had and that it will help me, if I am ever a manager, to remember what it feels like to be on the lowest rung in the work world. Thanks for your comment, for your prompt. I appreciate it. I appreciate you. :-)

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