Archive for the 'employment' Category


December 12, 2013

While I am leery of giving advice to other people, I found myself pointing out to my friend last night what seemed to be working in her life and what seemed to be her trying to make something work (not without good reason) that wasn’t working for her.  I didn’t say it looked to me as if she should abandon her pursuit of what she wanted in terms of a new engineering job, but I did point out that what she was doing in the community and with politicians seemed to fulfill her and seemed to be working out more easily.  I thought maybe she should put more of her focus on that aspect of her life.

I even cited Richard Rohr about the halves of our lives and what suits us when.

Of course, I have no idea what she should be doing.  She has professionals she goes to for career advice and she has a partner at home, so my role here is not that important.  But she came to me when she found herself at a difficult juncture, and I try very hard not to turn away from someone who seeks me out in that context, I try to catch the person when they hurl themselves at me in the way Jordan used to when he would jump off the stairs landing into my arms.

I do believe we can help each other by softening each other’s landings and pointing out where another’s trail of bread crumbs seems to be.  And, if nothing else, we can reassure them by our actions that there is someone at the other end when they reach out for help.


Performing tasks

January 16, 2013

I think I learned this from Gita, she to whom I go to hear what I don’t wish to hear.  It’s the idea that whatever it is we’re doing, we are doing it for God (or, if you prefer, we can do with the attitude that we are doing it for God).  I associate that idea with tasks that are tedious, difficult, too many in number for the amount of time, etc., but I mostly associate it with tasks deemed lowly in some way.

But today I was caught up in activities that involved technology, finances, and other things that suggest status and significance.  What I actually spent hours doing on the phone and online with these people in the financial sector was really unproductive and unsatisfying, and why it has any better reputation than cleaning bathrooms or shoveling snow, I don’t know — I certainly didn’t find it more satisfying than tasks lower on the totem pole according to our system of values, and it struck me that the people on the other end of my communications, while very nice and trying to be helpful, were being paid more than I think maids and plowers are paid.

It struck me that what we assign value to is pretty arbitrary, and that some of the current claims to an activity’s value are a little like the emperor’s new clothes.

But if the orientation is that whatever task is being done is being done for God, it doesn’t really matter.  That concept is a great leveler.

Social ills, II

February 10, 2012

I dug out my old anthropology course paper on the rehousing case study I referred to in my previous post.  My concluding paragraph reads,

When the urban, matrilocal Bethnal Greeners are transplanted to suburban housing estates, their family structure is altered from one of three generations to one of two.  The emphasis on the mother-daughter relationship is eclipsed by that of husband and wife.  Young and Willmott sense this is not a desirable state of affairs, in which women are very dependent on their husbands and very lonely, and in which the three generations cannot exchange services to their mutual benefit.  Yet they do not seem to see the close ties between women, especially between mother and daughter, as stemming from positive economic motive implying female control over home industry, but rather as a reflection of job insecurity in the public sphere dominated by men.  Whatever social organization is “better” for both men and women and whatever the economic and residential arrangements that this would require would be, it is clear that these three spheres are inextricably intertwined.  We cannot examine kinship relationships except in the context of past and present economic and environmental circumstances.  Perhaps in this way we will discover how to manipulate a system in which both men and women will enjoy equal access to both the domestic and public spheres.

The case study, or ethnography, I was writing about was Family and Kinship in East London, written by Michael Young and Peter Willmott, and published by Penguin Books in 1962.  I wrote my paper in December of 1977 for an anthropology class, and I called it, “The Effect of World War II on ‘Mum’ and the Family.”

Social ills

February 10, 2012

In reading all the attention being paid to income inequality, unemployment, and moral decay, I start to wonder why no one talks about the role of anxiety and depression in the interplay of forces.  However depression and anxiety get started, they exacerbate a downward spiral, whether through self-medication or producing a child in the hopes the child will provide love that is missing in the parent’s life or through other maladaptive coping skills.  I suspect at this point that depression and anxiety are larger factors in struggling populations than we are giving these factors credit for, and while I strongly agree that medication can make a huge difference in some people once depression and anxiety become large and otherwise intractable, I don’t think medication is the solution, I think instead we need to treat why there is a net outflow of “energy” in the social group, because I think it is some seemingly innocuous small imbalance that begins it, that then gets amplified and begins a complicated chain of events or process, and whose symptoms we then observe in increased poverty, crime, and fractured families.  I remember reading a case study, while I was in college, about how rehousing poor people into housing projects in or near London unintentionally shredded family and other social networks,* and that this then had far-reaching negative subsequent consequences — the population did much work after the rehousing, much to the surprise of the people who thought they were just proving improved places to live.  That’s the kind of innocuous event I would look for in trying to redress the economic and social ills in the U.S. discussed in Charles Murray’s recent book and all the reactions to it.

*I thought I should add that, as I recall it, the (new) housing projects were high-rise apartment houses, rather than the lower-slung sorts of housing that the people were currently living in, and that the rehousing broke up the physical distribution of the family members, disrupting arrangements, for example, of having an aunt or grandmother around the corner who could pitch in to help with childcare or cooking or emergency help — the rehousing paid no attention to reassembling the physical proximity of the extended family members that was the scaffolding to the social safety net, it scrambled the population by rehousing them according to other criteria, I think.

And I certainly don’t think that the housing should not have been improved, only that the housing planners clearly, in retrospect, needed to take into account additional factors in order to realize the improvements without imposing new costs, however unintentionally.

Careers disrupted

November 5, 2011

I was reading the comment written by Marie Burns in response to Charles Blow’s column about Herman Cain, and my first thought was to extend her my sympathy for having been harassed at work and fired for having complained about it.  Besides the personal and professional negative consequences to her, however, it then occurred to me, are the negative consequences to us in the audience it has probably had, because I’m thinking about what her trajectory might have been professionally had her career not have been distorted by that episode.  I don’t actually know what Marie Burns’s career has been, maybe it was the better for her having been fired, maybe there was some other greater good that came out of her having experienced what she did, and I don’t as a rule advocate indulging in the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s,” but reading her comment made me wonder whether we all have been disadvantaged by not having had the relationship to her obvious talents that we could have had.

Morale, and morals, in the workplace

August 9, 2011

Two recent stories I was told that seem to me to point to part of what’s wrong with our economic and social fabric:

One was from a woman who manages and clerks in what I guess I could characterize as a high-end home furnishings store, the other from the father of a young adult working in an inexpensive restaurant.

In the first story, the current employee is being required to train her replacement who will be paid 50% more than she has been paid, in the second, the son helped a friend find a job in the same establishment, the friend is being paid 75 cents an hour less, and the son got released from his employment.

The theme in both tellings was how demoralizing for the original employees such treatment has been.

I admit these are only two anecdotes, but they make me wonder about factors that contribute to the weakness of our job market and economy — it seems to me penny wise but pound foolish to treat employees in this way.  A demoralized workforce is not good for even employers who think their short-term advantage lies in such treatment of current employees.  Business owners talk about the need to have good will with respect to their customers in order to sustain their commerce — it seems to me that good will with respect to employees is also necessary to sustaining a business  — bleeding (labor) resources dry (of morale) will leave one eventually without resources, period.

Mood pyramid

August 5, 2011

My current theme in my interpretation of current events, or at least of how they come across in the reports of them, is that we are fascinated by the top of the pyramid and tend to disregard the base.

We talk about polarized politics in Washington and jobless ex-convicts in NYC, to take two examples, and act as if we can address that last, dramatic part of the situation by itself, the part that arrests our attention.  I suspect it’s more like putting brakes on a train, and that applying the intervention much earlier in the process is much more effective.  The anger and fear out of which the Tea Party seems to have emerged, our country’s continued dance with racial and ethnic discrimination — these I think lie somewhere in the background behind the drama of politicians making sharpened sound bites and behind the alarming statistics about unemployment among minority members with fewer credentials and the liability of a criminal record.

Our individual relationship, including contribution, to these larger social forces makes them seem to me a more obvious place to start in an effort to improve conditions, instead of merely wringing our hands on the sidelines as if there is nothing we can do to change things.  I am not altogether sure whence the anger and fear of the Tea Party and the folks who elected them, but with regard to jobless black and Latino ex-convicts, it seems to me that at least part of what is going on is that we in our society treat blacks and Latinos worse than we are willing to admit and then express surprise at these the  results.  If people can’t find acceptance in the mainstream culture and have their own contributions folded into it as equally valid components, why wouldn’t these people foster an alternative culture for themselves?  That’s at least the dynamic I’ve seen, blacks and other members of minority groups looking for their place in mainstream opportunities during their adolescence and being steered elsewhere, sometimes overtly and sometimes more subtly — and yes, some individuals have the resources to overcome that initial response to them, but some don’t and do what the mainstream (including as conveyed in our media and entertainment industries) tacitly, or worse, expects of them, like a self-fulfilling prophecy by proxy.
So, with regard to Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative, I’m thrilled with it and the positive attention it brings, but I hope it also inspires the public more generally to revise their attitudes towards blacks and Latinos, and whether or not they’ve been incarcerated.  And I am hoping that we can similarly identify why so many Americans are fearful, angry, and alienated enough to give rise to something like the behavior of the Tea Party congressional members, and then for us to address those issues at their source, as well.