Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shared Sacrifice

At least once or twice in my life I've talked to people in business who knew other business leaders who had to lay off or reduce the wages of their workers. I've wondered aloud whether it might not be a good idea for those business leaders to take pay cuts themselves, or at least freeze their pay wages while their workers were making sacrifices. On both occasions, it was patiently explained to me (as if I were a two year old) that "it wouldn't do any good." They meant, I suppose, that as big as their salaries seemed to be, if they cut their own wages, they could not save enough money to save any of those jobs, or to help their workers.

Of course, that is an explanation based on "the bottom line," profits and losses, and quarterly income statements. I get that explanation. I'm not stupid.

But I don't buy it.

The bottom line is not the only consideration in business, or in life. There is also a concept which has become almost (not quite) unknown in our culture: Shared Sacrifice.

It is a concept for people who are living in community, who know that they are members of one another, who know that their actions have ripple effects beyond their personal, individual lives and their family lives. When there is pain to be borne, we suffer together, and together we can make it through the dark night and back into the light. In a therapeutic sort of way, I suppose this is one of the benefits of grief groups and other support organizations.

As I have been reading the economic news these past few days, I've been wondering just what is in store for us as individuals, as families, as a nation. Some people have used the word "Depression" to describe what could happen. We are a much more prosperous nation now than we were in 1929: more of us have bigger houses, with more amenities, more things we consider necessities. For example, grandparents did not have a VCR, DVD Player, or a CD player. They did not have cell phones or computers. And they did not have anywhere near the books that I have. They went to the library.

But they did have more of one thing than we have: community.

I remember reading Russell Baker's book Growing Up several years ago. He poignantly describes what it was like growing up during the depression. One of the things that struck me about the book was the sense he had that everyone he knew was in the same boat, everyone was suffering together, everyone was struggling together. If there were executives with large salaries somewhere having parties, he didn't know about it.

Some have speculated that in these New Hard Times that we will rediscover what it means to live in community: to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep, to make sacrifices for the common good. Perhaps we will discover there is power in working together, serving together, maybe even worshiping together.

Or, maybe we won't.

What do you think?


Presbyterian Gal said...

You raise here exactly the same things I've been talking with my mom about.

With community, you're right, we do not have that any more. My hope is that we can recreate that with the harder times coming. And they are coming.

~Here's some ideas that would help:
~Neighborhood vegetable gardens;
~School/Church/or Neighborhood shopping coops (for lower bulk prices
~Community pot luck suppers
~Friends gather in one home to watch one movie with homemade popcorn
~Shared magazine subscriptions

I have lots more ideas. Wouldn't it be nice if Bible study and prayer snuck into all that as well?

FranIAm said...

Oh Diane- such wisdom here. It is so good to see your words on the page and to feel the presence of your shepherd's heart out here. Thank you.

I am almost reluctant to write this - this is so not about me, but about why I am no longer a Senior Vice President at a big company.

FWIW - I was making a lot of money but far less than my peers. I look back now and realize I was the token something- not woman; th company was a very good place for women execs and leaders.

Anyway long and short of it is that I once suggested to a group of my peers and superiors that we as the leaders of the company should reconsider our compensation.

The question on the table (and this was at a time when money was being made hand over fist) was about how we would only have 3% increases that year.

My way of thinking is that if someone made $40K a year (not much in NYC) and they got 3% - so what? But if we as leaders refused increases and pooled the collective 3% from all of us, we could really make a difference.

As usual, I was seen as the kooky, off-beat one with the zany ideas.

I knew they wouldn't go for it and it was not really in our hands to make this decision... but I was curious indeed to see the reactions.

Deep sigh.

Anyway- you make an excellent point here Diane and it is very true that real community calls for sacrifice. Not the clenched-jaw sacrifice but the sacrifice of open hearts and hands- of expansion rather than contraction.

Not really seeing a lot of that, but we must propagate those seeds together- in community and in love.

FranIAm said...

Sorry that was so long.

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

I too have been wondering where this will all end up. You have given me lots to think about. Thanks.

Barbara B. said...

Very thought-provoking post and comments. "Shared Sacrifice" is something we'll be hearing more about I think...

Kathryn said...

Lots to ponder here - the idea of mutual responsibility is still conspicuous by its absence from most reactions to the financial situation but surely its time must come. I'm trying to sort out my own thoughts on the subject a little and will link to you if I may when I'm done.

steve said...

I pray that it may be so. But I worry that we have become so divided, so detached from each other, that "shared sacrifice" will be difficult to achieve.

Still, I love some of the practical suggestions described here!

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

i've been thinking about this stuff too... as motherhotcup drove 100 miles yesterday to come get food our sunday school children collected for her church's food panty. she said it was "an emergency" - pantry had been closed for 2 weeks b/c they ran out of food. i cleaned the cupboards...

and as those negotiations begin at the parishes i serve about my salary etc. for next year... knowing full well that harvest is good, but not great and cattlemen are hurting BIG TIME...

community, community... we can deny it all we want but we are far more interdependent than ever before.

Rev Scott said...

I read somewhere that a recently fired executive is now running a therapeutic clinic for execs that runs into the several-thousand-dollars-per-day range.

I get so mad when I read about stuff like this that I want to never, ever buy anything from anyone again.

Probably not the most helpful reaction. But we all get protective of "what we've got coming," especially in uncertain times such as these. I can tell myself that the difference is that I'm barely above the poverty line, but the conviction remains: it's a lot easier to call others to sacrifice than yourself.

(Not accusing you of doing that, mind you - just illustrating the point).

Diane said...

Oh, Scott, I have no illusions that I'm good at this AT ALL. As you say, it's just as hard for me to share as it is for the billionaires.

RevDrKate said...

Thanks Diane. As always, you have me thinking on these things.

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

I remember reading the Little House on the Prairie books with my kids. The most important thing we got out of them was a discussion of the difference between needs and wants. This has helped my oldest tremendously as she went through seminary and now is a part time pastor to two small churches while her husband is also in church related work.

When you've always "had" it is difficult to understand the other side of the tracks.

When I was in Uganda a year ago, the biggest lesson I learned was that people can work as hard as can be and still remain mired in poverty, with no hope to get out, yet keep a good outlook on life.

Lindy said...

I know that during the depression, when times were hard, there was a greater sense of community. I'm just not sure there's a correlative relationship. I think they would have had that same sense -- or similar -- if times had been good.

As usual you have me thinking. Thanks, Diane.

Marsha said...

This has long been a sore point for me Diane. I find it morally despicable that any executive or business owner would take a pay raise or a bonus in a year in which staff was reduced for economic purposes or gain. That isn't saving money for the business or passed along as savings to the consumer, it is simply shifting where the profits go.

I have very similar thoughts about tax cuts by the federal government. All that does for me is to insure that my state and local taxes go up as responsibility for the programs that are also being cut by the federal government in order to implement the tax cut is shifted to another area of governmental control. My state and local taxes have gone up over the years at a much higher rate than my federal taxes were reduced (with little to show for it I might add).

Oh how I wish for common sense and decency and a lot less spinning in our world.

Clomp, clomp, clomp (the sounds of climbing down from my lofty soap box).

God_Guurrlll said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I've been very anxious about our current economic situation. My prayer is that in the aftermath of our economic decline, we will join together in community to care for each other. Perhaps the silver lining in all this is that we'll figure out that rugged individualism does not work and that in realizing our inter-dependance that we will care for each other just as God calls us to.

LawAndGospel said...

A thought-provoking post. Who knows, maybe we will live into the resl meaning of koinonia- more than community- participatory partnership. One could only hope and pray.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

So many good comments have been made already. I'll never understand how people can feel entitled to several million dollars. I look at CEOs and think how selfish they are . . . and yet, I wonder how the same selfishness infects me. I think we'll all have plenty of opportunity in the coming months to see how much sense of "entitlement" we ourselves have. I just hope that we have eyes to see.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if the economic challenges will increase our sense of community, or make us more insulated, each one of us fighting to keep what's left of his/her possessions.

dust bunny said...

Yep..difficult times are here..with more coming. Going through them together makes more sense than weathering the storms by ourselves. What is shocking to me (although it shouldn't be) is how our mess has become a global mess.

Paul said...

I don't buy it either, Diane. Great post, as the many comments indicate. We will indeed learn if we have it in us anymore to live as community. I pray it is so.

Rev SS said...

Awesome post and comments ... praying that this can be the time our eyes and hearts are opened.

Sarah S-D said...

great post, diane. i was musing on similar things, but from a darker angle at my wordpress blog last night.

well said, as always.

shared sacrifice, yes, but also shared repentance is what we need, i think.