Sunday, March 31, 2013

If You Can't Say Something Nice ...


As much time as I spend on the Internet, it’s a miracle this hasn’t happened before.

But regardless, today was my day.

 (Well, actually it was Friday, but I didn’t notice until today that)—

I was flamed by a troll.

Here's the story.

At some point during my Internet activities, I caught the attention of one of those right-wing “liberty” websites, and I regularly receive email notifications of new postings, causes they want to promote, and so on.

I usually delete them. No questions asked.

Friday, however, my curiosity got the better of me, and I clicked on the link wondering “Could these folks be as bad as their reputation? Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover some intelligent dialogue going on over there.”

Yeah …  um, that didn’t happen.

After noticing that one of the articles was on a topic of interest …  I read it. It was okay, but I thought the author might have missed the mark a little. So, I left what I thought was a pretty reasoned response ... and was flamed.

Now, I should have known better, because the troll had already insulted the writer of the article. But here I come along, in my usual codependent manner, thinking I’m going to add a voice of reason to this discussion and help these folks out, and no, I wasn’t.

Instead, I was told “your [sic] just another useful idiot,” called a “twit” and informed that President Obama is my God. Instead of, you know … the one I regularly proclaim from this seat, Jesus Christ.

And, considering that my comment contained no mention of President Obama, the Presidency in general, the government, or even the White House, I found that tidbit to be more than a little interesting, because what my comment did contain was my real name, which can be found on the Internet alongside my real picture. Not to be paranoid or anything.

After reading the response to my comment, I thought to myself, “Gee, I’ve only been here five minutes, and already the resident troll is making me feel right at home.” It was touching, really.

At the same time, after reading all the comments to the article, I now truly understand why right-wingers have a reputation as gun-slinging, racist, homophobic, hate mongers. Passion is good, and God knows, there’s plenty in this world to be upset about, but some of these folks are out there. My only concern is that some view these guys and gals as representatives of the church, and that's truly disheartening.

When it’s all said and done, I’m glad I checked out the site, because now I know to “unsubscribe” quickly the next time  something comes in my inbox, and that’s one less email message I’ll have to be concerned with each day.

And so, to my troll I want to say—

Thanks, dude.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

‘Employees Are Our Greatest Assets’ and Other Fahooey


Earlier this week a reader responded to my posting about Adria Richards by saying, “However unfortunate, this reflects the bigger reality that employees are an expendable resource.” The reader then added his hopes that Ms. Richards finds another rewarding job.

After thinking about it a bit, I responded “Me too … and I hope the termination conversation was humane, if nothing else.”

I had to think about this response for a while, because I stumbled on “employees are an expendable resource,” wondering, are they? Or is that just a convenient lie we tell ourselves?

I mean, are human beings ever truly expendable?

Then I looked up the definition of the word on freedictionary.com and had to admit that yes, human beings are expendable.

ex-pend-a-ble. Open to sacrifice in the interests of gaining an objective, especially a military one.

So, my reader was spot on, and I agree with him about the “unfortunate” part.

But then my next question was, “How the hell did this happen?”

And it turns out I’m not the only one who’d ever wondered about that.

Have you ever heard of the “Never-Never Girl?”

She’s the invention of an 1970’s advertisement extolling the benefits of temporary workers. The “Never-Never Girl” never asks for a vacation, never asks for a raise, and never costs an employer in fringe benefits.

In addition, she “Never costs you a dime for slack time. When the workload drops, you drop her.”

Hmmm …

In “The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy,” sociology professor Erin Hatton argues that the “evangelizing of the temp industry,” deserves a big part of the blame for the modern-day idea that employees are a profit-eating burden from which employers need relief.

Consider this. When Manpower and Kelly Girl Services were formed in the late 1940s, union power was at its peak. However, these agencies managed to avoid union ire by advertising their jobs as mostly suitable for young, white bored housewives looking to earn a bit of pocket money. Hatton writes:

While greater numbers of employers in the postwar era offered family-supporting wages and health insurance, the rapidly expanding temp agencies established a different precedent by explicitly refusing to do so. That precedent held for more than half a century: even today “temp” jobs are beyond the reach of many workplace protections, not only health benefits but also unemployment insurance, anti-discrimination laws and union-organizing rights.

One advertisement in the 1971 issue of The Personnel Journal even urged employers to convert its employees to temps. Why not?

“Just say goodbye… then shift them to our payroll and say hello again!”

Geez.

Hatton sums it up this way—

According to the temp industry, workers were just another capital investment; only the product of the labor had any value. The workers themselves were expendable.

And there you have it. One very compelling argument for how, at least in part, we got to where we are.

By the way, I highly recommend that you read the entire article. It’s really quite fascinating.

Hatton says that we want good, living wage jobs to return to this economy, then we’ve got to figure out how to keep the best of what the temp-worker model has to offer while ditching the anti-worker ideology.

What do you think? Is Hatton's argument persuasive? Or is she peddling fahooey?

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Dumb Company You Keep


A few weeks ago I wrote about sick companies, and today I’m going to write about dumb companies.

Like sick companies, dumb companies are likely dysfunctional, but for different reasons.

But what is a “dumb” company?

Simply put, a dumb company is one that promotes a culture of stupidity. That is, a culture in which learning is viewed with disdain. This is a company where leadership thinks it knows it all, has seen it all, and has done it all. Where “Company X’s Way” is always the best way, even if no one has actually investigated any other way.

If you work for a dumb company and enjoy using your brain, frustration is probably you friend, because dumb companies don’t really have that much use for their employees’ brains. Doing as you're told is more important than contributing a new or even newly considered idea.

So, how are you supposed to hold it together when you work for a dumb company? How are you supposed to get through the work day without dying of boredom, screaming in exasperation, or quietly despairing that you are slowly but surely losing your rarely-used skills and abilities?

Well, you’ll have to do what I call “making your own fun.”

You’re going to have to deliberately seek out those opportunities and projects that feed your interests, perhaps butting your intellect up against your company’s “dumb-dumb ceiling” as far as you can without jeopardizing your position. It will also benefit you to align yourself with like-minded individuals with whom you can have an intelligent conversation on a regular basis. Hopefully your boss fits within this category, but if not, don’t despair. Even dumb companies have employees who want to talk about ideas and the best way to do something (after all, you're one of those, right?). You just want to be careful to not let these conversations deteriorate into a gripe session … all the time. That won’t help you.

Also, actively seek out opportunities outside your company. Take a class. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out the offerings of your local community college or non-profit educational consortium like the Mt. Airy Learning Tree we have here in Philadelphia. Keep your eyes open for free webinars on topics that interest you, too.

Volunteer at a local school or other organization dear to your heart.

Build your skills however you can, so that you’re ready for the next job while maintaining your sanity, too.

But what if your current job keeps you so weary you have no time or energy for that stuff? 

Well, there’s no other answer to that question than this—

You’ve got to find the time and energy. You’ve got to. You’ve got to find a way to disengage from your company’s culture of stupidity long enough to harness the energy needed to find and engage in those activities that feed your passions and your intellect. Doing nothing and hoping your company’s culture changes is not going to cut it. And you’ll find that the more time you spend doing things you enjoy, the more energy you’ll have.

I also recommend thinking long-term about what’s really going to make you happy and will offer a shot at paying your bills. Those jobs are out there.

And remember, over time, dumb companies make their smart employees dumb and their dumb employees dumber.

You don’t really want that for yourself, do you?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Go Tell It On the Mountain, Y'all


Tomorrow is Good Friday, and many people will be attending church services in remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion.

And so, today seems like an appropriate time to discuss something Christians say that always disturbs me a little and sometimes disturbs me a lot, and it’s some variation of “I don’t like to talk about religion, because my faith is personal.”

Hmmm …

It is true that one must have a personal relationship with Christ to be saved. You can’t be saved because your Dad is a preacher, your Mom is a Sunday school teacher, or your spouse drags you to service each week. You can’t even be saved by your own voluntary and enthusiastic church attendance. You must instead confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord (Romans 10:9).

And like any intimate relationship, a relationship with Christ is personal, no question. But Jesus never called his sons and daughters to receive faith and then not share it. On the contrary. We are called to make disciples (Matthew 28:19) and to let the light of the Holy Spirit shine from within us (Matthew 5:15).

So, I don’t really get this whole “I won’t talk about my faith with anyone” business.

Well, let me say this. I do remember being a young Christian and being shy about my faith as well as being afraid, frankly, of being judged negatively by nonbelievers.

And even now, after being a Christian for more than twenty years, there are still times when I’ll hesitate to talk about my belief in Jesus, again out of fear, even though I recognize this as wrong (Luke 9:26).

And to be perfectly honest, whenever a Christian tells me that she doesn’t think we should publicly talk about our faith in Jesus, well, I can’t help thinking that she is simply trying to shut down the conversation for some reason, and I wonder why.

Understand, there have been times when I’ve gotten this reaction, and the objector is not even part of the conversation! For instance, once my niece began a conversation about how, in her opinion, Allah and Jesus are the same, and I began responding to that when someone else in the family, a professing Christian, said something like, “Oh, can we change the subject?”

Hmm? My niece and I were having a calm conversation, and I wanted to hear more about her beliefs, which she wanted to share. What’s the problem?

So now whenever the moment permits I say, “Well, if Jesus wanted us to keep our faith private, why did he choose such a public death?”

(I can’t take credit for this line. I’m borrowing it from a former pastor of mine.)

But why, indeed?

So if anyone reading this needs encouragement sharing her faith with others, I’d like to give it.

Christ died on the cross, in the public eye, and he calls us to share our faith and the wonder of what he did for the world to the world.

Do you know that there are still places in the world where it’s a crime for Christians to assemble? Where reading the bible is illegal? Where people are placed in jail and threatened with life incarceration unless they renounce Jesus? And they won’t?

So please, if you’re an American, in particular, don’t take your freedoms for granted.

The people of this broken, bitter world need to know about the saving grace of Jesus.

Tell them.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Power of One


Today I watched Veronica Guerin, a 2003 movie based on the life of Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, who was murdered in 1996 by drug lords after refusing to be intimidated into not reporting on their criminal activity.

Cate Blanchett played the lead role, and she was terrific, as was the entire cast, really.

Well, I’m a big old crybaby, as you know, so of course I cried during the movie, especially there at the end.

Guerin was an honest-to-God investigative journalist, the kind that you don’t see much of on mainstream media any more.

And while I have no idea how many liberties the movie producers may have taken with the story, by all accounts the real Veronica Guerin was indeed a force with which to be reckoned.

Journalism was a third career for Guerin. After working in accounting and public relations she transitioned into journalism while in her early thirties. However, Guerin used her accounting skills in her writing career, tracing income earned through illegal activity.

Guerin received numerous death threats and was shot and attacked before being murdered. I find these facts astounding. Most people are terrified of experiencing pain and will quickly retreat after being threatened. Think about it. Don’t you know people in your workplace who won’t confront a nasty coworker or boss because they’re afraid of being hurt? Of having something of value taken away? And usually these folks are not in physical danger, but their instinct to avoid pain is strong nonetheless.

And here Guerin was in actual physical danger, and she still forged ahead. She was quoted in the British paper The Telegraph as saying “They [the drug lords] are destroying lives, and they are practically untouchable.”

I don’t know if Guerin was courageous beyond belief, stubborn beyond belief, crazy beyond belief, all of these, or none of these. In any case, her story is downright inspiring and makes you want to go out into the world and do something.

After Guerin was murdered, the community was so outraged, protesters took to the streets for days, and the Irish parliament changed the laws to allow for the government to seize the assets of those suspected of criminal activity. The investigation into her death resulted in 150 arrests, including those of her killers. Dang. Now that’s what I call activism.

The power of tenacity. The power of persistence. The power of the written word. The power of one.

Wow.