Friday, January 25, 2013

First class or coach?

In 2010, there was extensive publicity surrounding a Jet Blue flight attendant, Steven Slater. His dramatic exit from his job raised questions about workplace anger. It's reported that Slater used profanities with an unruly passenger, decided to get off the plane, grabbed some beer, deployed the emergency slide, and slid to freedom from his employer. Shortly after this incident, a Facebook page was created in his honor, money was raised for his defense fund after being sued by his employer, and he was hailed a modern day hero. While many people have a bad day at work and think about saying, "take this job and shove it," few act on it. Slater took action in a dramatic and attention-getting fashion.  Does that make Slater a hero? I'm not so sure.

In the confinement of the workplace, emotions can spill over at perceived or real inequities. Other life events and pressures only serve to magnify those feelings and thoughts. However, it is rarely appropriate to break into a verbal rage or abruptly leave a job. Bosses can be demanding. Customers can be rude. Co-workers may irritate you. Things may appear to be in disarray. It's enough to make anyone angry. Upon deeper examination, one finds that the rage often stems from the inability to effectively deal with emotions, a lack of courageous communication, and a lack of healthy personal outlets for release. Most people do not know how to engage in healthy disagreement, negotiate deadlines, create timely solutions, or unconditionally accept one another. If you don't share similar ethics, values, or accept the pace of your workplace, it indeed may be time to leave. That's easier said than done when you have financial and family obligations. Yet even in a tough job market, you must move on if things are highly stressful in your workplace. 

Rather than exploding at the boss or abruptly leaving your organization, take time to ask yourself what you're looking for in a workplace. Are you flexible or offended when asked to do your job more efficiently or in a different way? Are you secretly harboring prejudices against your boss due to age, ethnicity, or your own pride? Is your anger more reflective of your own insecurities rather than real problems? Do you have healthy stress relievers outside of work (exercise, community service, church, etc.)? If you have a personal support system, does your support system always agree with you or challenge you to see both sides of a situation? If you honestly answered yes to most of these questions, it may be time to leave.

Once you decide to leave your job, nothing is gained by telling people off or avoiding healthy, courageous conversations that might make it better for the next person. When you leave by "sticking it to the man," it speaks volumes about your professionalism and compassion. Or lack of it. Despite his momentary satisfaction and fifteen minutes of fame, the former Jet Blue flight attendant faced criminal charges and it is reported that he could have injured the ground crew and others during his dramatic departure. The slide deployment is believed to have cost the airline $25,000. His fellow flight crew was left picking up the pieces of the damage he caused. Was this behavior irresponsible? Selfish? Courageous?

In my many years of working in various industries and with a wide variety of people, I have observed an abundance of unhealthy resentment in the workplace. We have all complained about a boss or those in leadership positions. Some of it may be justified. But the truth is that there is no perfect boss or work environment. Where ever there are humans, there will be problems. You should never accept insults, public humiliation, or physical harassment by a boss, colleague, or customer. If you are not in a genuinely abusive situation, you may have more time to assess your workplace expectations, then create a thoughtful exit strategy if your expectations do not match the realities of your ideal workplace. If you choose to stay, it means learning to respect personality quirks, adjusting to communication styles, and showing flexibility within the workplace culture. It means trying to anticipate more of what's required and whining less when you disagree. It means asking questions or negotiating deadlines. It means knowing the difference between a valid complaint and when you are simply being a diva. It means rising above conversations that encourage pettiness, insults, or gossip to further feed your dissatisfaction. Ultimately, it is healthier to move on if you don't see a way to thrive in your work environment. Just do it first class.

The Steven Slater story saddens me as I think about the people who blindly supported and encouraged him simply because they too have similar workplace issues. When all is said and done, do you prefer to travel coach or first-class? As a person of deep faith, I try to choose first-class whenever possible. First class is more caring and civilized. If you decide it is time for you to leave, try to do it with grace, dignity, compassion, and thoughtful communication. What do you think? Is that flight attendant a hero or zero? Share your thoughts below...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Honoring my ground crew and Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I ran the 26.2 miles of the Chicago Marathon in October 2012, my sister referred to herself and the cadre of family and friends supporting me as the "ground crew." During that time, she shared that the origin of the term "ground crew" was a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. So, I set out to find the speech. The term "ground crew" is referenced in Dr. King's 1964 acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize. No matter your political, religious, or educational interests, this speech is worthy of reading. Today, I honor my Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and my personal ground crew.

Martin Luther King' Jr. Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
Oslo, Norway December 10, 1964

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.
Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.
After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are travelling to find a new sense of dignity. This same road has opened for all Americans a new era of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights Bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a super highway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.
I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!
This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.
Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.
Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible - the known pilots and the unknown ground crew. So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuliof South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man's inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who's Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live - men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization - because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness' sake.
I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners - all those to whom beauty is truth and truth is beauty - and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.
From Les Prix Nobel en 1964, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1965