Business and Empathy Don’t Mix

By Jason Menard

Well, today’s travesty about makes it certain that I’ll never buy a Ford again. Like the cars they build, the Fords run well, but have no heart.

The bloodletting has commenced and from the open wound, 25,000 to 30,000 jobs have spilled forth — all the cost of doing business and all part of a $1.6 billion US loss last year in North American operations.

I’m not naïve. I don’t see the world in rose-coloured glasses that doesn’t factor in the pressures of a market-driven economy. Nor am I so naïve to think that the unionized employees haven’t had some small impact on pricing themselves out of the market structure and making the company less competitive.

No, as painful as it is for these families who now have their lives wrenched asunder by an unyielding bottom line; this is all the cost of doing business. It’s a natural part of competition and business. And we could have accepted that. At least until Bill Ford opened his mouth. Because, as Bill Ford expressed to the media, we all have to make sacrifices here.

Where are those sacrifices for you, Bill? A hit on the stock market? A nominal drop in your net wealth? The accelerated impact that packaging and “inducements” as you so colloquially stated will have on your fiscal statements for the upcoming year?

Business is business. We get that. But don’t try to empathize, Bill. That suit doesn’t fit you nearly as well as the immaculately tailored one you wore to the press conference.

It is hard to believe that a multi-billionaire would have the audacity to envision a shared sense of loss in this situation. The sacrifices ol’ Bill makes, proportionately, are going to be far less than the devastation felt by those men and women whose sole source of income was their job at one of the 14 manufacturing plants now rendered superfluous to the company’s bottom line.

And these men and women don’t have the pleasure of diverting their attention from this tough time by tinkering with their personal NFL franchise – or a Super Bowl that will be held in a stadium that bears our name.

This is not to begrudge the rich. In fact, we as a society do far too much begrudging of the rich. Instead of feeling jealous for what they have, we should spend more time appreciating the talents that they leveraged to get to where they are in the social pecking order. We should strive to emulate their success in whatever aspect of life we choose to excel. To begrudge these people ignores the hard work they’ve put into to obtain – or maintain – their fortune.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t abhor the total lack of empathy with the very people upon whose backs they’ve built their fortunes. These people, whose sacrifices Bill Ford feels he can share, spent their blood, sweat, and tears building the foundation for the mansions that the Ford family inhabits.

This is not a time for shared pain, Bill. He and other captains of industry need to understand that the public has little empathy for the multi-millionaire rearranging a portfolio or cutting losses to ensure a maximum return in the future. The public empathizes with the father supporting his family on one income – one income that’s now been taken away from him. The public empathizes with the single mother who works the line to put food on the table for her kids.

This is not a time to discuss the need for everyone to sacrifice. This is a time for the Ford family to apologize for the necessities of doing business. This is a time for the Ford family to get up and express an understanding of the human cost of turning a profit.

When we use words like resources, expenses, overhead, and operating capacity to describe a situation, we do so to dehumanize the principals involved. By treating the employees as commodities, it makes it easier to deal with the guilt that we should be feeling as humans when we tear another’s life asunder. So now Bill can go back to his home, absolved of the burden that this mass cutting temporarily placed on him. But what about those “resources?” Now that Bill’s sacrifices are complete, will he continue to share in the concern for those formerly under his employ?

That’s where this fake empathy causes the most consternation. By pretending to care about the very employees that you choose not even to refer to as people, it insults society’s intelligence. No matter how bitter the pill is, the public will swallow it because we’re not naïve. We know how money moves and we know the nature of the business world.

But, like a dying patient, we want the doctor to tell us the truth up front because sometimes that spoonful of sugar makes the medicine taste even more bitter.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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