In the Machine

Funny thing about money and people.  They can’t both be important at the same time.  We can try, we can talk like we are balanced, but when push comes to shove, either you do what’s best for the dollar, or you do what’s best for the person.  Many small business owners are very compassionate and willing to be flexible and understanding.  Some are not.  I know of two people who were fired; one during a personal health crisis requiring hospitalization, and the other while tending to a family member who was dying.  Neither had missed more than a week of work time.  On the other hand, I’ve heard great stories of patient and kind employers who were willing to work around schedules and allow for time missed.

Network Marketing puts people and money in a really interesting relationship.  As many times as we chased after the grand dreams of residual income in these businesses, we couldn’t find a way to have friends without dollar signs hanging over their heads.  Everyone is a prospect.  This creates wedges in normal human relationships.  People hate feeling like you are being friendly only for what you can get out of them.  I have had people call me that I had not talked to in years, or that cousin I had only met twice in my entire life – calling with a business plan.  By the way, “How have you been the last 20 years?  Oh great! Me too and thanks for asking.”

I worked in Direct Sales for awhile, and all strangers were prospects.  We found tricks to get phone numbers and tricks to get them to let us in their doors.  Tricks to get them to go into debt for things they couldn’t afford.  People weren’t just prospects, they became targets for manipulation.  I justified this because of my zeal for the product and the decent commission.  The day I realized one of the sales claims had shaky proof, I never made another sale.

I have often thought I would enjoy selling real estate.  I love seeing the potential in properties and would enjoy helping people buy and sell them.  It would be a genuine service that I would feel no guilt about earning money for, if indeed people could come first and the dollar second.  Could I keep it in proper focus?  Would I be allowed to?

When it comes to the really huge mammoth corporations, things are more tricky.  Most are owned by investors and the company must commit to growth on their behalf.  I have heard they are actually bound by law to do so.  If this is true, then people cannot come first, no matter how progressive a company may try to project itself.   Employees, the environment, community impact – none of these factors will play a factor unless they are mismanaged to the point that the company experiences a backlash in publicity and reputation suffers.  So each corporation must strive to maintain an appearance of being ethical and humane while in fact the bottom line is the only real line.

Entering this giant machine, my world might have to be drastically rearranged on a simple schedule change, the large corporation’s needs are oblivious to my needs and limitations.  While they will “try” to keep employees on their assigned schedule, this disclaimer follows:

 …based on business need, (X Company) reserves the right to modify shift times or rotate employees between existing shifts at any time at the company’s sole discretion….

Labor movements of the past have given workers today a much better workplace, but a machine is still a machine and a cog easily replaced.  Something about making an agreement with a machine betrays my sense of being human.  I feel like I am bargaining with a sacred gift, exchanging it for something so insignificant, but at the end of the day, essential to basic survival.

I wonder when in the history of mankind that working humans ever felt in a similar way, in the time before modern technology, factories, and mass production and distribution?  Maybe the slave hordes of Egypt that built the great monuments, or the migrant workers of the past and present who work as corporately as an ant colony over the landscape?

My husband is self-employed and also feels trapped by the seeming limitations on his earning power, but he is not part of a machine.  He creates beautiful things with his hands, one customer at a time, enjoying (usually) a human connection with each job that brings meaning to it in different ways.  What he makes will still be there for people to enjoy for years to come.  He gets recommended to others based on their satisfaction – instead of having to force himself to patronize another man of large influence and small character in order to gain a raise or a promotion.

We all bargain and choose what we are willing to do to in order to reach our goals.  I once enlisted in the Army and was willing to leave my child less than a year old to go to training, because the price of absence seemed less than the price of staying and paying for my choices that had created extreme poverty.

I believe in forces greater than simple cause and effect, or I would lose hope completely.  Life has more meaning than what we do to put bread on our tables.  But sometimes I fear the machine more than the lack.