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“THAT’S THE WAY WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT: A LOSING FORMULA
St. Matthews Ecumenical Catholic Church
August 31, 2014 – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
David Justin Lynch, Esquire
“That’s the way we’ve always done it.” We hear that in church a lot… in particular when anyone talks about changing the liturgy. But I’ve yet to find any saying of Jesus that sounds like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it”. Jesus was not a creature of the religious establishment of His day. Here was a guy who broke the rules: healing on the Sabbath, not washing his hands before eating, and horror of horrors, he threw the established money changers and merchants out of the temple with a whip of cords.
But the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude is also where people work. However, do we have to accept as a final answer? In the beginning of the last century employees were one step above a slave: Long hours, disgusting and unsafe working conditions, no health care, and very low pay. The Labor Movement in this country didn’t accept “that’s the way we’ve always done it” as a final answer. America saw massive street demonstrations, boycotts, and election of representatives who passed pro-worker legislation which ultimately humanized the workplace – somewhat.
Jesus and the labor activists had something in common: They challenged the prevailing domination system. In Jesus’s day, that was Herod and the Roman empire working together to oppress the Jewish people, just like government and business owners joining forces to oppress workers.
The history of labor and management relationships has traditionally been one of confrontation– us versus them, each side thinks of the other as evil. Both sides think that they’re better off having an adversarial relationship to achieve their goals.
But that’s not the way of Jesus. What if workplaces were not all about adversarial relationships? What about a company where there is mutual respect between management and employees? Isn’t that more in line with what we as Christians expect from the Kingdom of heaven? The kingdom of heaven is, among other things, a place where the Beatitudes become a reality: where peace, mercy and justice take the place of confrontation, cruelty, and what’s in it for me.
What if work places were truly based on Gospel values? A place where reconciliation replaces conflict, where management and labor do not look at each other as enemies, and where no one retaliated against each other – for anything?
I’m a business owner – I’ve owned my own law firm – and before that I owned an insurance adjusting and investigation company – in total, I’ve been an employer for the last 28 plus years. But I never earned a degree in management. It’s all been school of hard knocks and baptism by fire. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that I don’t want us versus them in my operation. That kind of thinking is what’s called dualistic, the world of: good-bad, black-white, either-or, win-lose. Dualistic thinking has no place in the work world. What I’ve done is NOT conformed to the ways of this world when it comes to employee relations. I’m a non-conformist by nature, so I don’t do things the way other employers do. I do it my way. My way is to listen to be open to God rather than imitate what’s going on around me. I want, and I have, a workplace where win-win, and both-and is the rule. My employees are as important as I am to the company. I need them and they need me. If I were a sole practitioner with no employees, I could never get my work done.
But I’m not the only employer like that. In New England, where I grew up, there’s a grocery store called Market Basket that’s been in the news lately. It’s a privately owned, family operation with many stores and a substantial cash flow. The secret to their success has been to treat their employees well and involve them in the decision-making process. They don’t have a union because of the good relations between management and workers.
At one time the company was co-owned by two cousins, Arthur S and Arthur T. Demoulas. Arthus S. got mad at Arthur T. for being kind to the employees. Arthur T. was the CEO and Arthur S. the Chairman. Arthur S sued Arthur T and won control of the company in court. But he really didn’t win.
Arthur S, who wanted to make more money, fired Arthur T. and made changes so that the company was more oriented towards management than the employees, run in a more conservative way, more like other companies.
The employees got mad and went on strike. The public boycotted the stores in sympathy with the employees. The company started tanking. Finally, Arthur S, fearing the total loss of his investment, sold out to Arthur T. who reassumed control of the company. The result? The employees returned to work, and the customers returned to the cash register.The way I see it, management and labor both win when they play together as a team, and nowhere was that point better illustrated than the events at Market Basket.
The prevailing psychology in many workplaces is to think of managers as parents and employees as children. That’s wrong. I don’t conform to that. At my office, I listen to God instead of to this world. I start with the idea we’re all adults. I treat my people as adults and I expect adult behavior in return, and for the most part, I get it. I respect that each person has value, not based on their place in a hierarchy, but based on what the individual is as a person. It’s like First Corinthians 12, where we read about people having different gifts to build up the Body of Christ – prophecy, healing, wisdom, ecstatic utterances, and many others. In other words, we all bring something to the table and because of that, we’re all entitled to mutual respect.
Mutual respect is a tall order challenge for many people. Most folks are so wrapped up in “what I want for me”. The prevailing expectation is either owners sacrifice for labor, or labor sacrifices for management. In other words, the old win-lose nonsense. How do we get around that?
I did a bit of word study. I focused on the phrase, “spiritual worship” What stimulated my thought is that it sounded different than what I heard growing up from King James Version, which translates the same Greek work, “Logikos” as “reasonable” and “Latreia” as service.” In other words, “reasonable service” rather than “spiritual worship” as in the New American Bible and the New Revised Standard Version.[i] On this particular phrase, I personally think the good old King James Version is a better translation to get the message across.
The beginning of today’s Epistle invites us to ask, “what’s reasonable? Not dualistic thinking! Dualistic thinking is, by nature, not reasonable thinking….it’s narrow-minded thinking…as it cuts off myriads of creative ways to solve problems. The key to improving relationships between management and labor is all about sacrificing the dualistic thinking of win-lose and instead think to win-win, recognizing that the goals of management and labor are equally important.
“That’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking is not what will get you there. What will, is conforming yourself to the will of God rather than the ways of this world.
So at your workplace, have courage. Be creative. Paint a new picture. Compose a new song. Write a new book. And think about a new paradigm that looks something like the Gospel. Always remember, your real boss is none other than Jesus. AMEN
[i][Logikos=reasonable (3050), according to Strongs Concordance, and it’s translated that way in the King James Verson