Friday, December 30, 2011

Prejudice against Business-folk

And no, I'm not talking about people who are labeled "socialist" simply because they don't bow at the throne of capitalism.I'm talking more about the idea that those who work in artistic, human service or any lower paying job are somehow inherently more caring, driven, passionate or Christ-like than those who sit behind a desk. It springs from the same vein of the oft misquoted "money is the root of all evil". The actual verse being...

I was on Facebook today and saw a friend's post that got under my skin a bit. He admitted to being eluded by the intricacies of business and continued on to marvel at the fact that every toothpick, shoelace and bathroom deodorizer came from a business effort, headed up by companies with specific goals. Fine...though I've learned to think about these things involuntarily, I realize that most people don't. What got me though, was that he followed up by questioning the manufacturers' love of said toothpicks, shoelaces and deodorizers and then to pose the question of them being motivated by money instead of love for a product. I've run into this attitude in many areas of my life, and I find it entirely off base for multiple reasons.

First off, some people love weird things. They're in the minority, but there is that guy who's running a paperclip factory that's deeply in love with the paperclip...just as in love as the one composing symphonies or helping children. If we're going to evaluate the altruism of an act based purely on internal emotional feeling, they would come out tied. 

Second, just because a job serves people, or is counter culture, doesn't make it inherently beneficial. It took me a second to realize and accept this, but there's a lot of selfishness in my martial art. I see no difference in working 50 hours a week to build a bank account and make CEO than I do working 50 hours a week to improve a skill and win a competition. In both cases, you work to serve yourself. Those goals are not wrong, but the path you walk to get there is what makes the difference. 

Third, a job being inherently subservient does not then make the people performing said work universal martyrs. I've met some twisted human service people. It's not frequently admitted, but while human service jobs seldom offer much pay, the do offer a LOT of power. A VP can fire, cut pay, and cause some serious emotional damage...but still...a teacher can derail a child's progress in life permanently, a counselor can sexually manipulate, a social worker can ruin lives with one decision, a missionary can abuse the very people they were sent to help. The difference? Vulnerability. People do not open up their souls and emotions in the world of the corporate. Of course those things are affected by sheer exposure, but there is little expectation that a supervisor is trying to improve someone's overall life. That's one very honest things about the coldness of business. It's a in exchange for money. That contract limits damages to a degree...but in the human services, people are openly and rawly exposed to those around them.That why a person being apathetic about their job in business doesn't bother me too much, but in human services, I find it offensive and irresponsible...possibly even malicious. 

This is one of the respects in which the world of Brazilian jiu jitsu (which I practice), reminds me very much of the church. The bulk of the practitioners align closely with surfer culture and there's a distinct air of self-righteousness in their having "rejected" more traditional life-styles. How does that line up with church culture? Well, while the institution does carry the hierarchical worship of those with higher incomes, when it comes to the morality of the actual work, those that work in business (not all of whom are bringing home huge paychecks) are seen as moral bystanders, not doing anything wrong, but not carrying on the work of God in their daily lives, though they may be following God's calling on their lives to the letter. The ones who have given up corporate work for the sake of missional pursuits are praised without question. Those who work as teachers and counselors and house-wives are seen as sacrificial and holy (though oddly at the same time looked down upon, which I attribute directly to churches picking up and welcoming in broader cultural norms). 

I've known all this but it was nice to see it articulated in Why Business Matters to God. I'm still working my way through, but it's a great read for anyone working in business and anyone who knows someone who is. 


  1. I think people want to feel that there is an altruistic purpose to their work (if the kind of work you described first) because whether it is due to gendered social conditioning (the jobs you first mentioned that are low-paying are disproportionately staffed with women, and that is why they are deemed of less value and pay less overall, coupled with the social notion that studying or servicing humans on an emotional/personal level < absolutely anything technical/financial) or a genuine joy for this type of work in a society that tells you salary is what makes a job valuable, people need something...anything to feel that their work is valuable as well.

    I don't think it is always the "love of money = root of all evil" concept why some people take this work or admonish (or are “prejudiced” against) business people. It is because their work is already devalued and they seek to re-add value. To me, people who work in these industries are akin to being single, or a minority or a woman. They are the little guy. So when the big guy cries prejudice despite consistently receiving praise for simply being the big guy, it comes off a bit insincere. Power obscures itself from those who possess it, and in this case, a typical business person is always seen as more valuable and important than an artist or teacher, especially when that value is based on money or traditional power.

    Now I do agree that some of these positions (non-traditional, low pay) do entail incredible power. And, as research has revealed, power without status is incredibly dangerous.

    I don't agree with "people do not open up their souls and emotions in the world of the corporate." I think that may apply to you and perhaps even us (as Black Americans) as our connection to job title and corporate workforce is not the same as say church or family, but for many White Americans, for example, there is that connection to their job and the expectation that people are there so that they can succeed and be fulfilled. I see White Americans business blog this way all of the time but culturally and personally I can never directly relate to it.
    I don’t think this book would be something I could enjoy reading because it’s giving me the air of the “reverse racism” cry (for example) when the powerful don’t want to be critiqued. I could be wrong. It just seems that way though. Obviously I would have to read it to know for sure.

    I am glad you pointed out the flaws amidst these jobs though because no one should think that a teacher or artist etc is above critique or approach. They are just as human as those in the corporations, subject to the same failings in the fluid not fixed thing we call character. It's just that once it sounds like "teachers are being mean to CEOs," then it's harder to empathize.

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  3. I agree with what you're saying regarding this being akin to "reverse racism" and initially included a section explaining that, but for the sake of length and clarity, decided to leave it out. What you're saying falls under this note

    "though oddly at the same time looked down upon, which I attribute directly to churches picking up and welcoming in broader cultural norms"

    As I said, I think this is true only in a cultural sense. When it comes to pure morality/altruism, few people see business as moral..many amoral, which is a burden to those business people who are believers trying to work out God's will in their lives. They are the minority, yes, but they do still exist. It's also an excuse for those who are in business to behave amorally and without no way a cause, but little is expected from them when it comes to spiritual or social responsibility.

    I'll admit though, I did forget for a moment how important a job and interactions can be to White Americans contrasted with say, Black and Latino counterparts.

    To clarify, I wouldn't say the "meanness" is coming from the "teacher" side. I also don't want to group all business people into the CEO type either. I know quite a few who make less than teachers and are in less stable jobs. It's much less a war of two sides than it is a general community opinion that impacts all involved.

  4. Regarding the book, the bulk is dedicated to the fact that practicing Christians who work in business have a way of rolling with the "business is business" ideal of conducting themselves, and leave their principles at the door when they enter the office...the place where they likely have the most impact in their lives. Like I said though, I haven't read the bulk of the book, but from skimming and reading the first couple of chapters, that's what it seems most concerned about...changing detrimental behavior as opposed to crying foul over existing circumstances. I'll likely be writing on the rest of it at a later date.

  5. Oh ok, thanks for the follow up comment. From that angle, I can imagine having a strong sense of religion and then going into work at businesses that either are corrupt or everyone views as corrupt can be quite stressful. That makes sense. It then touches back on the "perceived value" thing. If people think business is valuable because of earnings but immoral because of principles (or lack of principles) then that becomes just as rigid a burden as being expected to be altruistic but can't pay rent. LOL. Makes sense. Thanks for sharing.