Thursday, September 01, 2005

An Illusion of Freedom

When I was a child, I envied adults and their freedom. Now that I'm older, though, I know that much of what I envied was an illusion. While some adults do seem to call the shots with regard to most of the things which happen in their lives, there are many more who do not.

All kinds of external factors can rob people of full control over their lives. As we have recently been reminded by the tragic events in the Gulf of Mexico, natural disasters can destroy peoples' lives, and rob them of the things for which they have worked hard for decades. Natural disasters do not play favorites. No one is immune to such disasters, and the knowledge of that fact can make even the most successful person feel vulnerable and insecure.

However, there are other factors which can affect some individuals a lot more than others. In particular, economic factors can play a huge role in determining the extent of a person's independence, particularly for those who are employed by others. In an ideal world, no one would ever work at a job in which he or she was unhappy. But this is not an ideal world, and the struggle to find a suitable job, which is often a matter of trial and error, can be long and hard, particularly because the drawbacks of some jobs only become apparent after one has accepted such positions and worked there for a while. Even if employers do not blatantly misrepresent the jobs they offer to applicants, they are unlikely to volunteer information which might make them look bad. Moreover, things can change for the worse even at jobs which started out on a high note. Hence, it's almost impossible to have any total assurance that a job for which one is applying will not turn out, at some point, to be a nightmare.

Of course, in an ideal world, every employee would have a lot of money to fall back on, so that in the event that a job turned out to be a real "dud", the employee would find it relatively painless to quit the job and look for a better job. But people who aren't paid a whole lot to begin with seldom have such resources.

Employees are vulnerable to the irrational whims of the employers and managers for whom they work. Such people are sometimes called their "superiors", but often, they are superior in name only.

Far too many people seem to think, when they become bosses, that their positions of authority constitute entitlement to needlessly belittle, harass and bully their employees. Never mind that those employees may be far more competent than their employers in some respects.

There is a verse in the Bible which says something to this effect: "To whom much is given, much will be required." In other words, people who have been granted material wealth, positions of authority and other assets will be held accountable by God for how they have used those assets. As Peter Parker's uncle told him in one of the Spiderman movies, "With power comes responsibility." Too many people act as if they are completely oblivious to that fundamental principle, and the result is needless job dissatisfaction and friction in the workplace. On some occasions, that friction has resulted in tragedies which could have been prevented if the people in authority had simply taken time to remind themselves that employees are human beings with real needs, including the need to feel appreciated and respected.

None of this is to say that bosses are not entitled to speak critically to their employees when the situation truly warrants it. But lower-level employees should not be made scapegoats for all of the problems which might arise in the course of a normal business day. Too often, they are.

I speak from personal experience. As for the specifics of those experiences, suffice it to say that while I could certainly cite specific situations from the relatively distant past, since the particular people involved no longer have any power over me, there are other situations, of more recent vintage, which I am not yet free to discuss in detail. But I am praying that God will deliver me from the circumstances in which I currently find myself, in a manner which will not jeopardize my ability to support myself.

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