From what I read on his application he was a recent parolee having spent at least seven years in the pen for armed robbery. The initial conversation was positive, he was contrite and repentant for his past offences. It was a surprise...and an alarm, when he again appeared in my office a few days later early in the evening after all other workers had gone home for the day. His was a tangled eye look and disheveled pleading for, demanding a job. Oh, and I should add that he proceeded to light up a marijuana joint in midstream discussion as well.
My classes in management had not prepared me at all for these encounters. The first "real" job out of college was with what could best be described as a struggling, rag tag manufacturing operation--a machine shop area with the mist of cutting oil wafting through the air, another shop where forged metals were annealed (heat treated), and a final assembly and shipping department. Douglas McGregor's Theory X was very much the modus operandi with tense labor management relations, an abundance of profane yelling and shouting throughout the plant, and a generally pessimistic culture with which to work with subordinates, peers, supervisors, and often customers.
Just days ago I spoke with a couple of millennials who were struggling with some things at work. One was puzzled by the approach of senior management to under staff. "Why can they not see a better way to relate to employees?," she lamented. Another had recently become aware of some pay inequities. She remarked, "It's not fair and it's not right." I get it. I've been there. From my view us baby boomers were yesterday's millennials, sans what technology has developed over the past 30, 40 years. We had our dreams then, our notions as to how things were supposed to be, and our expectations for career advancement and reward. The tastes of reality were an antidote to our idealism; cynicism began to creep in. We confronted a new opponent: disenchantment.
The point is that for our overall growth and development the not so good job assignments we may encounter during our times in the occupational wilderness can end up being our best teachers over the long-term. During these periods of struggle the Apostle Paul reminds us that "we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope." Romans 5: 3-4 And indeed I can reflect back now with gratitude for experiences as an educator.
I was only with that company for a year and a half. During that time a man snagged his ring finger on a piece of pipe, ripping the digit from his hand. Forever more in safety talks I reminded workers to always remove jewelry when working with and around industrial equipment. Another worker's arm was pierced by the sharp end of a compressor hose, his forearm inflated to the size of Popeye's. I learned a new respect for machinery. Another employee who wore a ponytail was operating a turning lathe. Bending over to adjust the machine, his extension became caught. An alert inspector nearby shut off the equipment, saving the worker from breaking his neck. As it ended up he was scalped. I learned to either keep hair cut short or wear it up under a cap or hardhat when working around moving machinery.
Lastly there was the employee working the graveyard shift in the heat treating area. These furnaces would anneal the metallic material to temperatures often in excess of 900℉. In an environment of not just heat, but cutting oils, etc. the conditions were just right that an article of clothing was inflamed, he ran, and was instantly a blaze.
He was gruesomely scorched over more than 80% of his body. I went to visit him in the hospital. I will always recall it as being the most tongue tied moment of my life where I was unable to compose any words of comfort, reassurance, or...anything. He died several days later. I learned that at times there are no words; perhaps just presenteeism is what matters.
A good question that job interviewers will ask applicants is "what did you learn in your first job?" Although like in many interview questions there is not an exact, correct response, what the interviewer is looking for is the foundation of a positive work ethic, an appreciation for responsibility, and an attitude of learning. Although I learned many things on what not to do in that first job, I relearned an abundance that served me well during my career.
So what happened with the parolee? There he was toking away and obstinately defending the use of an illegal substance in my office. I gritted my teeth, bit my lower lip, and without further incident was successful in persuading and shepherding him out the front door. The door was then tightly affixed and locked, shades pulled down. I waited some time until I was fairly confident it was safe to exit the premises. It was a lesson in poise and courage.
The Seed Sower
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