A PERSONAL NOTE ON CORPORATE AMERICA
By Jill Cohen Walker, J.D.
I keep hoping it’s all a bad dream and that American corporations haven’t sold their souls to some evil higher power, but I know I’m wrong. Within those austere and mighty champions of business are folks who’ve honed the kind of survival skills that will cost them in the end. They know how to cheat, manipulate, and deceive others. It’s beyond selfish behavior. It’s a way of life for those who embrace the sub-arts of manipulation and con-artistry. Many of us have been there, done that, repented big time . . . and were forgiven; others have never done it or never repented . . . and never will.
Such behaviors could be genetic, but most likely they stem from what I know as the sin nature of man. Either way, the tools of the not-so-honest crowd have become more and more prevalent in modern America as godly values and morals slip down the drain into antiquity.
It’s also something that has sent me into a personal and somewhat emotional tailspin for the past two weeks . . . so much so that I digressed from working on two different series to write this piece. Not for my sake, although it does purify the soul to confess one’s frustrations, but out of respect for one woman who has more fortitude and courage in her little pinkie than most people could ever hope to amass in a lifetime—even in the face of personal disaster and professional hijacking. Her professional ethics are nothing short of admirable.
I’ll always remember the day she made the decision to step out of a management position because she knew where she could best serve her employer while meeting her own needs and the needs of her family. That was about three weeks ago . . . around the exact time I was stunned by the machinations of another whose apparent need for power and money—perhaps, as she said to “show them what she could do”—took its toll (or almost did) on the professional lives of co-workers she fooled for two months, I among them. (I have to trust the people for whom I work . . . ‘nuff said on that point . . .) I will, however, talk about Kim. I usually call her Kimmy because I have another dear friend named Kim. For this writing, she will be dignified with the short version of her name.
Kim’s experience in management forced me to struggle again with the issues of lying and deception in the workplace. You know. . . those who deserve promotions are usually denied the opportunities while those who don’t rise higher and higher . . . giving credibility to the “nice guys finish last” cliché. Well, either the nice guys aren’t all that nice (which I don’t believe) or the masters of deception (in this case stealth and manipulation) are great at subtly or overtly running roughshod over more honest and capable competition.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with folks who want to succeed and move up through the ranks. Those who do their jobs well should be rewarded with pay raises and promotions when possible. However, I do have problems with the Teflon™ folks in our midst—from the guys next door to the sleazy politicians—who skate through the raindrops and are rarely caught or held accountable in this lifetime for their nasty ladder-climbing deeds. We’ve all experienced the spillover costs of their behaviors, which leave us feeling wounded, betrayed, hurt, and often angry and frustrated . . . perhaps even downright dazed and confused.
I’m sure I’m in good company on this one. King David wrestled with the same issues in Psalm 73 wherein he spoke about how the wicked prosper in their wickedness and the rest get the crumbs. Then he had an awakening—more a word from the Lord—that those who prosper through craft, who exalt themselves above others (even God), who view power and money as the end-all and be-all of life, and see themselves as a member of the Elite Club will be set on slippery places. And we all know how easy it is to slip and fall when the terrain we’re walking on is covered with grease. (Those who don’t know have never worked in a fast food, buffet or full-service restaurant . . . or perhaps an auto repair shop.)
We’ve all met the go-getters, the upwardly mobile, and those who want to break through the elusive glass ceiling. I continue to meet many such persons of both sexes and at first blush they come across as highly motivated, outwardly charming, willing to play the corporate game (whatever that really means), and sacrifice their lives for the gold ring—like Alfred in John O'Hara’s From the Terrace. In the end, like Kim, Alfred chose a better, more loving place. Like Kim, Alfred found out there are better things in life than making it to the top. But I digress a bit and I promised both God and myself that this piece would be dedicated to Kim and others like her because they deserve my deepest respect. Kim is just one of many Americans who are willing to do the jobs that we’ve been told Americans aren’t willing to do.
I know enough about her background to know she wasn’t encouraged when it came to continuing education or the pursuit of higher goals, notwithstanding that she came to the South from California (communist country to those who live elsewhere) via Missouri and is very bright. Small and somewhat petite with a delightful personality and a growing faith, she still emerged with skills and talents that she has never seen in herself. She is one of many who have no clue that they are i.e., the mavens of honest marketing (no oxymoron here), public relations, and management, including time management.
This daunting single mother of five—that’s right five—children has mastered the art of orchestrating the impossible while homeschooling the three children who remain at home and holding down a full-time job at night (and working double shifts on weekends). Her customers love her, co-workers admire and look up to her, and none of this touches her ego because she’s too busy loving the people with whom she comes in contact. Her ability to forgive and move on is almost surreal. Oh that I could have such an incredible and godly gift . . . but I’m slower at forgiving because I’m too analytic and justice oriented.
We met my first night at work in a local restaurant. Many, including co-workers, have asked why someone with my background is willing to cut up cucumbers, dice onions, make salad dressings, wash dishes in a crunch, serve drinks at the front line and/or run a cash register. They didn’t understand why I would enjoy running Kids’ Night which includes, among other artistic endeavors, blowing up lots of helium balloons and doing a variety of face paintings on the kids. They still have no clue that I enjoy the exercise (I’m keeping my weight down), the challenges of multi-tasking, and the daily interactions with regular folks. Besides learning to develop a servant spirit, I have the public relations gene that I use during my Cookie/Coupon Patrols to local businesses and also love to teach interested others after I’ve learned something new. My comment to co-workers who question my presence is rather simple: “Are you telling me that only stupid people can work here?” Makes them wonder about their own abilities when they have to answer that question. (Does anyone remember Nelly Bly?)
Well, Kim was so supportive when we were first introduced by the general manager that she even helped dress me, which included a lesson is the right way to tie my apron strings. No pun intended, but some adults need lessons in tying and untying those critters. I know from whence I speak . . .
Kim welcomed me with the kind of love one rarely experiences from a family member or friend, let alone a co-worker. She still shows that kind of love, even when she’s caught up in her own struggles. She was there when I was falsely accused of backstabbing my crew leader regarding food production (which I didn’t because I was too timid to do such a thing). She was there when I didn’t have a penny in my pocket until payday and made sure I ate dinner. She was there when one of our less cogent co-workers went on a bash-Jill tirade that was way out of line. She let me train her in the fine art of peeling and grating carrots, peeling and cutting up melons, and other sundry salad bar tasks that are more artistic than intellectual.
About a month into my restaurant employment experience (per Nelly Bly), Kim was promoted to the position of associate manager. It was an appropriate promotion for her, but managers must have more than a key to the workplace, should earn more money, and much training is involved in order to do the job well. That’s where the guys at the top let Kim down. Thrown into a position with no training materials, no guidelines on what she had to learn, Kim was adrift and frustrated in her new position. Add the fact that she was earning less money and you have a perfect formula for disaster.
A few weeks into her new job, a new management team was sent in by the quackers (deep pun intended) at the top. Kim suffered enormously as she tried to prove she was worthy of her new position; but she immediately sensed that they didn’t want her in that slot. Instead she was told that “servers should never be promoted to management positions.” (This didn’t apply to woman number two because she had some restaurant management experience . . . and the raindrops began falling and the skates were laced on tight.) There were also the questions by managers about the workers’ ages (a big no-no) followed by private remarks about hiring good-looking servers instead of older women. Sheesh, I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but both age and beauty concerns certainly cross the EEOC non-discrimination line. Slight digression . . .
Kim asked over and over again to be trained properly. When it never happened, she saw the handwriting on the corporate wall and stepped aside. How could she do the job if they wouldn’t train her to do it right? She didn’t fuss about it, she prayed; and while it was a painful decision, she’s found a way to be happy about it. She’s still the lead server, crew leader, trainer (who’s supposed to get an additional dollar an hour in actual pay, but never has gotten it yet . . . how many hours would that add up to at this point? Add up the years and do the math . . .)
I’ve followed Kim’s situation from the start because the day she decided to take the management position she approached me to see how I felt about it. I couldn’t understand why until I realized she saw me as the next likely candidate. Now I don’t want to belittle her thinking, but two months of restaurant experience does not make even the best “Nelly Bly” fit for the job. What I am fit for is observation and learning. I’m not the traditional whistleblower, but I can’t stand to see woman number two being trained by those in the know (and who make far less) how to work in various areas in the restaurant so she’ll be knowledgeable enough to be their boss. Now, that’s just absurd!
I’m not saying she’s not a hard worker. The last time I noticed (which I avoid doing in her case), she was knee deep in coleslaw “showing them what she could do” instead of them knowing from the start. That opportunity is there for her . . . but was denied to Kim. Not good and not right. The difference, perhaps, is in man elevating himself through pride and God elevating a person because He is blessing that person. Which promotion would you rather get? I’ll take the latter and keep the prayers going.
I let Kim read this piece before submitting it. My gift to her will be a copy in its final, online form. I want her to know that some of us overeducated seniors (that’s 50-plus, by the way) appreciate women like her. I want her to know that she’s a valuable somebody in the clogged up corporate world and that nothing that’s happened can ever devalue her worth as a person and a worker. Mostly, I want her to know that even with all my education I am no better than she is. I recognize her as a wonderful friend who’s earned my utmost respect. Be blessed Kimmy . . . oops . . . and know that you are loved.
© 2005 - Jill Cohen Walker - All Rights Reserved
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Jill Cohen Walker earned a BA from Goddard College in 1977, a JD from Franklin Pierce Law Center in 1980, and an MS in journalism at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1999. A freelance writer for fifteen years, she has written numerous articles for tech magazines and newspapers, and co-authored a book on hiring practices in the printing industry.
She taught Social Studies for one year in a northern middle school, and medical-legal and bio-medical courses in the Allied Health division of a local community college for four years. A student of legal history and the US Constitution, she began to study current events and Bible prophecies in March 1985. Her deep interest in and awareness of American politics started during the 2000 elections when she realized the prophetic time clock was ticking fast. She is the co-author of the novel "The Call to Prayer". (www.thecalltoprayer.net).