The experience of these workers was a world away from what had first come to mind in my attempt to empathize with their prospect of unemployment.
What a delight! As the morning light came into the pleasantly cool landscape, I met Jake, and then a man with whom I did not exchange names, and then Rick, and another guy who radiated spiritual confidence, then a woman whose name I did not learn. Jake was in his car, smoking a cigarette, waiting to go into Wrayco to begin work at 7:00. I had expected to encounter shock and anger about the closing of this large and impressive plant, which at its peak had employed 281 people, now only 79. Take a look: wrayco.com/
I found no shock and only in one person did I seem to sense a thin layer of anger buried under layers of confidence, good memories, and positive momentum. Though I had seen the news only over the weekend, the employees had been notified weeks earlier.
I had prepared a line, which I would say as they approached where I was standing: “I learned that the plant is closing, and I wanted to express my sympathies for your loss.” And that was the truth of my soul. I had no further intention today. After my introductory line, I stopped and let them respond.
Jake seemed to be in his twenties and had an intelligent and peaceful attitude. He had a couple of leads in his job hunt. He didn’t want to sit home, collect unemployment compensation at half the level he could earn, and get depressed. I could only feel an instinctive optimism about his prospects. After talking with him, I went over to the entrance to the plant and waited for someone else to walk in. I spoke with the next guy. Most were happy to take a few minutes to talk. Rick wanted to stay in touch, and I gave him my card. The last person I spoke with was a woman who saw me standing in the semi-darkness near the stairs leading down to the entrance to the building. She looked uncomfortable with my presence there, but I explained myself, and she relaxed and went inside. A couple minutes later she appeared again with a cup of coffee for me. “It’s cold out here.”
They wanted to know why I was there. I had a few components in my answer that I drew on with different people. “I’m here to support you.” “I have worked with people who are looking for a job or in transition.” “My job is to help people in times like this.” To Jake I said, “Truth be told, I’m an evangelist.”
Ed Owen had taught me that you can’t just preach to people, you have to earn the right to be heard. It takes time. You have to meet with people multiple times. The art of teaching is to find the one thought that you can give them on that occasion. And then trust the spirit to do its work until you meet again. I had entertained grander ambitions before going out there, but I remembered that way of wisdom. How can you do this kind of work if you don’t know the people you’re talking to? A little socialization, a little getting to know, and see where it goes. I was grateful for the repeated paper jams last evening, as I tried to print out a page to hand out. I’ve pasted it below. It was not well tuned to where they are. And as I left home this morning, I was glad of the printer jam. It seemed vastly more fitting to simply go and be, with nothing in hand.
I had come at 6:45 because I had found online that they open at 7. But this morning I learned that a lot of employees start at 6. I was fortunate to be able to meet them one at a time, with a few minutes between each person. It was wonderful to begin to know them, and they appreciated the support. But the level of need did not seem anything like what I expected. I have not yet decided whether to return tomorrow.
Here’s the letter I–thankfully–couldn’t print out.
Stow, December 12, 2016
Dear Wrayco employee neighbors,
The shock of the news of the plant closing brings to mind economic uncertainty, personal disappointment, the difficult road ahead—imagining these things fills the mind with sympathy for your loss. Friends are ready to listen to your stories about the way things were, your relationships with fellow workers, and how things have changed now.
Shock makes it hard to discover your resources of hardiness/resilience/toughness/grit/ cosmic stamina—call it what you will. Here’s a research report plus a spiritual thought.
Research shows hardiness is the key to the resiliency for not only surviving, but also thriving, under stress. Hardiness enhances performance, leadership, conduct, stamina, mood and both physical and mental health.
Why do some people suffer physical and mental breakdowns when faced with overwhelming stress while others seem to thrive? A landmark 12-year longitudinal study by psychologist Salvatore R. Maddi, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Chicago involving one of the biggest deregulation and divestiture cases in American history provides some answers.
In 1981 Illinois Bell Telephone (IBT) downsized from 26,000 employees to just over half that many in one year. The remaining employees faced changing job descriptions, company goals and supervisors. One manager reported having 10 different supervisors in one year. Dr. Maddi and his research team were already studying more than 400 supervisors, managers and executives at IBT before the downsizing occurred and they were able to continue following the original study group on a yearly basis until 1987. Results shows that about two-thirds of the employees in the study suffered significant performance, leadership and health declines as the result of the extreme stress from the deregulation and divestiture, including heart attacks, strokes, obesity, depression, substance abuse and poor performance reviews. However, the other one-third actually thrived during the upheaval despite experiencing the same amount of disruption and stressful events as their co-workers. These employees maintained their health, happiness and performance and felt renewed enthusiasm.
What made the two groups so different? Dr. Maddi found that those who thrived maintained three key beliefs that helped them turn adversity into an advantage: commitment, control and challenge attitudes. The Commitment attitude led them to strive to be involved in ongoing events, rather than feeling isolated. The Control attitude led them to struggle and try to influence outcomes, rather than lapse into passivity and powerlessness. The Challenge attitude led them to view stress changes, whether positive or negative, as opportunities for new learning.
There is no more extreme example of workplace stress than the battlefield. Research by psychologist Paul T. Bartone, Ph.D., of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point found that hardiness protected Army reserve personnel mobilized for the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990’s. In this study, the higher the hardiness level, the greater the ability of soldiers to experience life- and combat-related stress without apparent negative health consequences, such as post traumatic stress disorder or depression. So, hardiness at least partially explains why some soldiers remain healthy under war related stress. http://www.apa.org/research/action/lemon.aspx
An Army chaplain friend of mine has studied reliance at Kent State to develop a concept of soldier fitness. I used to work there, too, and I developed a concept of the wonderfulness within—a source of energy, power, wisdom, insight, love, joy, peace, creativity, purpose, and guidance. Some people regard this wonderfulness within as a matter of neuroscience and psychology, while others have a spiritual and religious interpretation. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God within you. No matter how many dimensions make sense to you, this can be a time when you find it as you never have before.
Your brother in the Father’s family,
Photo credit: Herzi Pinki – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45603182