Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Being Honorable

In this housing market slump, I have been able to hire more than a few general contractors and independent contractors (plumbers, electricians, builders, painters, plasters, landscapers, etc.) who have been out of work. It has been a pleasure to find hardworking guys looking to earn their keep and provide for their families. I must admit to giving those most in need work who are dedicated and skilled.

Recently, a young man came to my attention as he worked under the general contractor that I hired. The general contractor went away for the weekend without paying his crew. I overhead this young man telling the supervisor that he needed to be paid because he had five children to feed and that he could not even make it home on a near empty gas tank. The supervisor responded saying that he would give him a few dollars for gas, but nothing more. I was not happy with this response.

Later on, in front of both the supervisor and the worker, I asked if all was well and if there was something I could do. The supervisor jumped in saying that he had it all under control. Under control? Here was a young man who needed to feed his family and was offered a few dollars for gas, leaving nothing to buy food for his family. "Everything is under control," he insisted. I looked over at the worker who tried to hide his disappointment as the supervisor obviously tried to cover for his direct boss, the general contractor.

"I will take care of this employee's salary for the week," I replied. The supervisor added, "No, that's OK; it's fine really." "I got this one," I insisted. Later on that evening I got a call from the general contractor, informing me that he would be back in town in two days and that he would take care of his workers then. There was no reason for me to step in. He also informed me that the reason this guy doesn't have any food is because he hadn't been putting him to work as he was displeased with the worker's last job. He had not finished the job. The general contractor said this with a slight heir of arrogance, a slight superiority. I didn't like this.

"Let me handle my business," he said. "I know these guys." He said this as as if the workers had to be pressured and salaries withheld in order to get the most out of them. What kind of business was this general contractor running? My question to him was simple: Had this worker put in time this past week? (Of course he had and had done quite well.) So, pay him! I noticed him right away as he is about 5" 4' with a withered hand. But he worked as if he was 6" tall, grabbing pales to stand on and carrying bags of plaster as if he had two hands. He was also skillful with a miter and rasp. The first day we met he went around with the supervisor and I taking notes. I liked this. This didn't seem like someone who wouldn't finish a job.

The general contractor had no idea that I had been watching this particular worker and I liked him from the start. Beside having a few skills, he has a good attitude and work ethic. Tonight, I dropped by the site at 10:30pm and he and his wife were working together to have the house ready for the new tenants. When I spoke with the general contractor he wanted to "handle" his worker himself. I guess he will have less workers to handle from now on. I will release this general contractor, hire another, and allow this worker to work under the new guy I bring in. If I can, I'd like to help him help himself, beginning with the kind of respect he deserves for his labor.

While I regard the chain of command, I honor people more.


wmmbb said...

It is a very good thing that you are kind, Judith. Sometimes you have got to change the system, because most people I am guessing play by the rules of the game. I have in mind the example of the final crisis, which in the nature of things cannot stop at the borders of the US.

Sure we want creative systems and innovative solutions but it seems we have the weigh those outcomes against the damage that can be done to people, without effective labor laws or conditions of employment. Often, to suppose that people are contractors (not necessarily your example) in a legal sense is simply laughable.

judith ellis said...

Thank you for your comment, wmmbb. I am a firm believer in changing the system when the system needs to be changed. I do believe that how we do what we do when when facing such systems change is also very important.

My kindness, as you put it, was driven by my sense of fairness and ethics. In this regard, it was only right to pay the young independent contractor who had spent the week working and was worthy of his hire. While I believe in kindness wholeheartedly, I must admit to being a sticker for excellence. Sometimes people view an insistence on such as unkind. But I also consider development too. We are all at different stages. This I understand.

You bring up a good point about contractors being people worthy of respect. Often times they are viewed as dispensabale, as there is often no recourse upon being released. Contractors live on the edge. Most of my adult life I spent as a contractor worthy of hire.

A final thought on kindness: We are all interconnected. Kindness breeds kindness. Spread the love.

wmmbb said...

Such is my ingrained individualism, aside from wishing it might be true, I struggle with the idea that we are all interconnected.

I think it drives from an understanding of science-based reality as objective reality that given contemporary physics may not be science-based at all.

It seems to me that the kindness of strangers is fundamental. I suppose the parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind. This had political resonance in relation to the policy on refugees, which I judged as callous and inhuman, versus the argument you had to be practical to be kind.

How can we be kind to the incompetent person (who more than likely could be me)?

judith ellis said...

My sense of interconntedness comes from the fact that we are all human and being so we struggle with the same fears, are confronted with many of the same right and wrong decisions, and believe on some level in the power of love, even if it is self-love.

I too have that streak of "ingrained individualism." I have wondered if such for me is rooted in excessive pride. Pride and arrogance are sneaky things. I check myself often. I am also accutely aware that I could not make it without the kindess and love of others. Often times a simple word of encouragment goes much further than anything else. I accept such kindess from family, friends and strangers and give it freely.

I, in fact, love to show acts of kindness to complete strangers, family and friends. Sometimes it includes stingy words. Young people are often initally surprised when I simply ask them about their actions or attitudes in public spaces. Sometimes their language is foul. I rarely let these things slide. Funny thing, never has one young person showed disrespect, even when I have hit them rather hard with my words--never disrespecting them, though. I think this is kindness. It is also love. We know love and kindness when we see it. Better yet, we feel it.

The Good Samaritan is one of my favorite stories. This man did not think of what the other wasn't but what he himself was: someone in need of assistance. He was not in need of money, but he was undoubtedly in need of something. Kindness stems from our ability to empathize.

Practicality may not have anything to do with kindness to me. I can, for example, decide upon actions for the good of my environment, that may be pratical but not kind. Kindness is not based on incompetence, but on loving others as you love yourself. When you consider yourself it is not difficult to show kindness.

I remember visiting Italy for the first time and sitting in a fine restaurant and being somewhat annoyed by the few people who came through with flowers to sell. Now, these people were trying to eke out a living, but I was not accustomed to this. I watched the Italians. They smiled, bought flowers, or simply said no thank you.

When I got home I had to really think about my attitude. I certainly was not thinking about those who sold flowers. Why couldn't I in my heart feel more compassionate? Why was I so annoyed? I could have shown more kindness, although mine did not display itself in any verbal or physical actions. I had an certain arrogance; "we don't allow that where I'm from."

For me, it was a heart thing which I promptly made restitution for. The problem is when we do not consider others as ourselves and dismiss them out of prejudice, selfishness or convenience; as does love, this too appears in the ether and is shed abroad.

Kindness is not based on competence or incomptence, it is based on love. Wisdom too is necessary in the display of either. I have run into many employees who have come to me later and thank me for the way in which I refused to accept nothing but their best which appeared to them at the time as unkind.

wmmbb said...

I agree it is too easy to get caught up in arrogance and pride. On reflection, I think you must be correct these attitudes are a form of disconnection from other people.

Still I cannot resist the "provocative" observation:Who would have thought that kindness and love had anything to do with good management?

judith ellis said...

Managememt is useless without kindness and love. Life itself is useless without kindness and love. Greed, selfishness, arrogance, and pride sucks the oxygen out of the air and inhibit goodness, personally and professionally. I do best when I love a thing, even if the thing or task is not lovely.