The thoughts that were thunk and the goings on of my life.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Detroit: Squeezing the Jell-O

As part of my new position at work, I get the chance to go travel a lot. Sometimes I get to go to cool places like Silicon Valley or New England, but most of the time I get to go where the company needs me. It actually works out really well most of the time though, because sometimes it gives me a chance to go somewhere that I probably SHOULD go at some point in my life, but that I would have avoided if it were up to my own time and money. One of the cooler parts for me is just getting to see new things. It helps to make sure that your perspective stays properly aligned. It reinforces that most of America is pretty much the same, so you’re not missing out on much by not being in Place B instead of Place A because most of America is the exact same.

This week I got sent packing to the state of Michigan to teach a class on the outskirts of Detroit. Detroit has always been on my list of places that I’ve never wanted to go. The only reason that I can think of that I’ve ever wanted to go there is because I liked Eddie Murray who played for the Detroit Tigers. (That was back in the days when I still liked baseball, before the strike in 1994. Those guys wouldn’t PLAY because they didn’t get more money and my family was getting maybe $10k per year for 7 people. Just seemed a little lame, I wish baseball had picked up a bunch of scab players from the minors and started fresh) I guess that aside kinda leads into the main reason that I’ve never really wanted to go to Detroit, Unions. I just don’t really agree with the whole mentality because I think it’s self-destructive. But I’ll get into that in a moment.

Visiting Detroit was like looking in a shop full of old wedding dresses. They are really pretty, you can tell that somebody spent a lot of time and energy making all of the intricate details. In fact, just looking at them can sweep you back to imagining what it was like for that girl/woman that got married in them. So much potential, but it was so long ago that now these dresses are forgotten and the people that once wore them with such pride are gone. While it may be nice to look at the dresses and imagine what things were like, the truth of the matter is that you’d never wear them. Because one, you’re, you’re a dude and you don’t wear wedding dresses. And two, even if you were a girl, the truth is that the dresses are too old, and too forgotten to be worn.

I guess for a more manly analogy you could pretend it was and old gun or baseball glove. Looks cool, you know at one point it was worn with pride, but you sure don’t want to shoot it or try to catch something with it because it might blow up in your face or fall to pieces. There hopefully that partially redeems the man points lost in the prior paragraph.

The truth of the matter is that Detroit is a really pretty city in some areas. The downtown has a certain amount of class and retro cool that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the US before. However, behind that fa├žade you can quickly see that the area is struggling to stay afloat. There are people randomly walking the street like zombies aimlessly looking for prey. In fact, hardly anybody is on the streets at all that doesn’t look like a piece of human vermin except in a few key areas. The problem with this place is that their industries are collapsing beneath them. I think part of it though can really be attributed right back to the people of the city and a lot can be traced to the unions that are there to protect them.

First off let me say that most of the people that I met up there were really nice. I’ve found people across the world to be incredibly nice, caring and helpful as long as you reciprocate the same back to them (even the shady people that your mom might cringe to think you’d talk to). However, I think there is a large chunk of the people that think they are entitled to their job. But you know what happens when you think you are entitled to something? You don’t appreciate it, you don’t try to develop it, and if you are forced to take care of it the best case scenario is for you to return it in the same shape you received it in. More likely than not, you will return it barely functioning. Basically if you don’t appreciate something you abuse it and then blame it for the abuse that you rendered upon it. The reason that unions exist really are good reasons. There is a certain amount of balance that employees need to make sure that they are not being mistreated by the people that they work for; however, I think as many different things in our world it is more like a pendulum that swings from one extreme to another and in this case I really feel that the pendulum has swung so far in the ‘favor’ of the workers that it is doing them a disfavor. Those that don’t appreciate their jobs are so secure they aren’t motivated. In fact, the security of the position makes sure that they are terrified of losing the security of a job that if they really thought about they don’t want in the first place. So instead of trying to do something they love, or trying to achieve more, or trying to better what they’ve been given they are scared into complete inaction by their desire to be secure. And as with anytime that you aim only to gain security you lose it, exactly like Detroit is losing the security now. The jobs are leaving, the industries are collapsing, those stuck in a position that didn’t challenge them are finding that they have no skills because they were too terrified to do something different.

Security is one of those things that’s like a Jell-O. It’s really great to have. When you have it; however, you are quickly tempted to try to grab onto it tightly to keep is from slipping away. But as with the Jell-O if you squeeze it is simply slips thru your fingers and while you may keep your hand closed unwilling to open it because ‘the Jell-O would slip away’, if you did open it you would find there’s nothing there. In the haste to retain it, it is lost.

I don’t want to become like Detroit. What is my personal Jell-O? Job security? That doesn’t exist in this world. My toys? Eventually they will fail me and break apart. My friendships? If I become too needy they will be driven away. Money? A man obsessed with money can never become happy. So life remains this balance. Enjoy what’s sitting in your hands, be willing to look at it and enjoy it for what it is, but don’t clutch on to it. It’s in the grasping that the things we desire in life slip between our fingers.

Detroit, I hope that you one day learn to make yourself anew. There’s a lot of talent, there’s a lot of hidden beauty within you. But you’ve got to be willing to let go and move forward; otherwise you will lose everything that you are trying so hard to clutch to and there will be nothing left.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So glad to be able to once again read your thoughts, and such profound ones at that. I'm so glad you are once again writing.