Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Perturbations

This past week I’ve had several perturbations, which as I write the word, it sounds like some physical activity that would inspire a teenage boy to snicker. So making sure I have the right word, I looked it up in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

perturbation noun

1. the action of perturbing : the state of being perturbed

2. a disturbance of motion, course, arrangement, or state of equilibrium; especially : a disturbance of the regular and usually elliptical course of motion of a celestial body that is produced by some force additional to that which causes its regular motion

Yep. That’s the word alright. Per-tur-BA-shun. I started a new job… and the kids - being kids - are on their way to adulthood… and the frenetic activity that accompanies parenthood has had me a bit perturbed. The job is going fine, and I work with some great people, but it’s different from consulting and I’m still getting re-acclimated to corporate life. When I was consulting, we’d sometimes refer to “going native” once the consultant becomes part of the corporate culture. And while every company is different, there are still similarities in corporate life regardless of the organization. I find it both interesting and accurate that when C.S. Lewis wrote “The Screwtape Letters”, he decided to model the culture of hell after corporate America. In corporate culture, there are often a lot of niceties extended without anything that resembles kindness. Unfortunately, that culture has extended internationally; in other words, the disease is spreading. I was discussing this over breakfast with a friend of mine recently when he said something that opened my eyes even further. I found a greater revelation of that truth… but I’ll get to that eventually.

First, let me say that I’ve got some great kids, and they often make my heart swell with pride when they act with respect and compassion toward others. But the truth is that they’ve been rubbing me wrong lately. Not all of them and not all the time – but I can honestly say they’ve perturbed me. I love my kids, each of them… intensely. So when someone is mean to one of them, the loving-would-be-protector inside me wants to rise up and do some protecting. Internally, that “protecting” feels a lot like “Hulk Smash!”, but I try not to ever let that green monster out. What’s particularly perturbing, though, is when the person being mean to my child is another one of my kids. Now this is nothing new, and like I said: the kids are being kids. But my tolerance for it is pretty short. And just because I can sometimes be patient with the behavior, trying to steer my kids back in the right direction, the actions are neither acceptable nor tolerable. Especially as my kids get older, I need to take prompt action. And I’ve noticed a ripple effect where an older child takes it out on a younger one until the only one left to receive the abuse is our family dog. (poor Dasher!)

Like I said, we try to stop it preemptively, and missing that goal, we take charge decisively. But it still happens. And that perturbs me. (Yeah, “perturb” is a good word for it.) My kids recognize its ripple effect too. One of them tried to use the excuse: “Well, maybe the reason I do it is that it happens to me!” He’s a pretty insightful young man, and there’s a lot of truth in his statement. However, I was quick to point out a greater truth: “Jesus received much more abuse and yet He never took it out on others. Who do you want to be like?” Yes, God understands that we misbehave out of our woundedness as evidenced by Jesus’ prayer on the cross: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they do!”. But at what point will God’s compassion and understanding turn toward perturbation? I know my love for my kids is just a shadow of His love for us, and if I get agitated when my children are mean to each other, how does God feel when we fail to love each other as He taught us? Let’s face it, people are finding “nicer” ways to be mean to each other, and we’re becoming smarter at rationalizing our selfishness. We can be “nice” without ever showing an ounce of kindness or compassion. We can be “nice” without ever lending a hand to a brother in need. We can be nice without ever being loving. I could go into detail, but that’s a rabbit trail for another time.

So this leads into one of my other perturbations. Some time ago, I was having a lunch with a man whom I respect. He’s a very senior manager at a corporation, and he has held senior management positions for many years with different organizations. We were discussing what the “right thing to do” was in a particular situation, and he asked “right by whom?”. This particular case had to do with the responsibility toward employees versus bottom-line profits, and my colleague pointed out senior management’s obligation to watch out for the interests of the share-holders. He explained that it’s their fiducial responsibility. “Fiducial” sounds a lot like “financial”, and since we were talking about the bottom line, I assumed that’s what he meant. Silly me.

So fast-forward to the recent breakfast discussion with my friend, who also works for a corporation. He was asking about my new job, and I was asking about his work. Ultimately, our conversation turned to the topic of fiducial responsibility, and he explained it so that I finally understood why I’m out of place in the typical corporate world: I believe that real value is not found in the bottom line, but it’s measured by how it helps people. Making a profit is a means to this end; it’s not an end in itself. But once a business is owned by shareholders, the people running the organization have a legal responsibility as a “fiduciary” of the shareholders to maximize profits, even at the expense of themselves or any of the employees. In other words, they are committed to the profit-growing needs of the organization over the needs of the people that either make up that organization or purchase from that organization.

Now this really perturbs me. God values people above all else, and that means I should have the same values. When people become a means to an end, they have been devalued. When they are compelled to serve a lifeless entity, even if they’ve offered themselves up to that service… well, something is wrong. So a system that values the organization over people… is demonic. I can’t find another word for it. And that leaves me with something else to ponder: how is a follower of Jesus to respond? Should a Christian own publicly traded stock? Should a Christian seek a career in a publicly traded organization?

A publicly traded organization is a system established in opposition to God’s values. Now that’s a strong statement, but let me explain. There is no chance to effect lasting change since the ultimate authority in the organization is the shareholder, and the nameless voice of the shareholder demands an increase in profit that will translate into greater value of their shares. Since there is no limit to the value potential of the share, the demand is simply: “more!”. It is the voice of greed. There is no greater mission but to maximize profits, and the fiduciary is obligated to comply.

The result is devasting: Innovation becomes a competitor to the corporate mission of “more!” since the profit potential of any new business model needs to be proven; therefore, creativity and risk are discouraged. But the need for “more!” has to be satisfied, and thus company “innovation” is discovered through acquisition. There is nothing but the mission and the mission is “more!”. It furthermore becomes a logical option for an healthcare organization to explore possible synergies with a tobacco corporation: one gets them sick and the other keeps them well enough to keep purchasing. Create a market need and exploit it. And the carnage spreads: competitors are either acquired or forced out of business when the corporate giant enters a market, selling temporarily at a loss until the smaller competition can no longer afford to stay in business. Then the prices start to go up. Over a period of time, society is changed, and everyone starts to believe that the bottom line (a.k.a. – “profit”, “more!”, etc.) is what drives everything and that there is hopelessly no way out of this “reality”.

But what if we started a new perturbation and initiated change in the economic “motion, course, arrangement, or state of equilibrium” by refusing to play the game? What if we deliberately and intentionally refused to purchase stocks and invested in real assets? What if we intentionally determined to seek employment and provision through other means? And what if we encouraged others to do the same? What if we imposed laws that obligated the shareholder to uphold and support an organizational mission at the expense of profit, freeing the fiduciary from serving the god of “more!”. What if we truly believed that God was in this situation and had a plan to use His people to restore life to a world being choked out by greed?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know this: something is broken and it needs fixing. And I know that our job as Christians is to let Him reign in our lives, and that through our obedience, He transforms hopeless situations into testimonies of restoration. And I wouldn’t mind being a part of this perturbation. Anyone care to join in the fun?

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)