On my first full day of living in Silicon Valley after moving there from Ohio to take a job at Apple Computer, I heard on the radio that the California Supreme Court had upheld a decision that said it was fine to fire employees for no other reason than they had gotten gray around the temples. If I remember correctly, the victim in this case was a man in his early fifties (at the time) who had received nothing but commendations throughout his career—until the day his company told him he was too old, hiring a much younger man to take his place. And now that firing had the imprimatur of the American legal system.
I literally shook when I heard this. Little did I know that I would be facing it, too. When my own career in tech crashed and burned through no fault of my own, I read the handwriting on the wall and knew I had to get out before it was too late. What I did not know was that it was already too late. My search in other fields continued to turn up one age-related rebuff after another. “No one will hire you at your age,” I was repeatedly told. My age at the time was 38. I am not getting any younger, either.
I’ve talked about “Age-ism” many times on this blog. Newsweek runs a huge six-piece gatefold on “The Office of the Future” and the first thing I notice is not a single gray hair or wrinkle in any of the dozen folks depicted in that whiz-bang, gadget-filled office—not even in the VP of the group. Next week the cover story is Botox. Coincidence? Not on your life. More than one respondent in that Newsweek article said, “I looked around and they were firing all the older-looking people in the department. I got Botox injections to save my job.”
Should we be surprised that the ugly stepchild of Darwinism, eugenics, is at the heart of this conspiracy? God’s economy lauds the elderly and their wisdom. But the Huxleys, Hitlers, and Sangers have no use for anything but prime youth. Getting rid of the aged makes us all feel better about ourselves since we no longer have to look death in the eye.
I know people in HR departments in many companies. They are routinely told only to go after people under twenty-seven. Fresh college grads are the target. People that age have fewer dependents (less insurance, fewer distractions from work), are healthier (less sick days, cheaper insurance), will sleep under their desks (no families to go home to, no Little League games or ballet recitals to interfere), will mouth the company line (without pointing out disturbing or unethical practices) and will eat and sleep their jobs. Better yet, as children of postmodernism, they have fewer qualms about doing what is necessary, even if that supposed “necessary” constitutes corporate malfeasance. Wisdom, the upbringing under more sober times, and the ethic instilled from those times counts for nothing.
Case in point: When I was working in Silicon Valley, the average age of a high-level manager at Sun Microsystems was that magic twenty-seven-years old. But consider that no large company has been harder hit or dropped faster from the heavens than Sun. The question about Sun today is, “Are they still around? What do they do?”
No one has learned the lesson, not even the Church. If anything, the Church today is on a youth bender unlike any I’ve seen before. The “old is bad” meme has caught on even within God’s Body. Churches preach that your appearance does not matter and that age means nothing—while at the same time they kick out the gray-haired worship pastor in favor of the trendy postmodern guy who loves Coldplay.
You can’t go a day and not hear some radio preacher talking about bringing legal challenges to abortion, gay marriage, or some other pet Evangelical cause. But where was D. James Kennedy when a guy in his fifties got a pink slip in California for being “too old?” Why isn’t Jim Wallis camped out in Sacramento protesting? Where’s the book by John Maxwell decrying “employment euthanasia” amid all that talk about leadership?
I’ve had too many conversations with men my age (I’m 42 now) who are asking if their careers are washed up because they’re in their forties and missed the brass ring; it went to a 29-year old, instead. The only consolation to my peers is that that 29-year old will get his a dozen years from now.
This is no way to live folks. And the Church’s silence is pervasive.
The Church has no words for the fallout of Jack Welch’s winning ways at GE, either. Lauded as a corporate genius, Welch poisoned the well for employment in this country by advocating downsizing as a great way to pad the bottom line. Capital is capital, whether it be cash or humanity. As mentioned in a previous post in this series, a total non sequitur exists when a company announces both a record profits and a record employee downsizing in the aftermath of those profits.
What pink slip mania has fostered means loyalty is gone. Again, the Darwinian effect is easily seen. Like the titan Kronos devouring his children lest they turn and seize his power, titans of today’s industries jettison employees to prop up their own corporate kingdoms, fueling enlarged egos at the expense of the common man.
What we in the church tell the downsized and unemployed is a contradictory message, too. We say we’ll stand by them, but then offer no help in finding them work. Instead, we offer to pray for them and that assuages our spiritual guilt while they burn through their savings. We can say nothing to the interviewee who is repeatedly told by the world to sell, sell, sell himself when the Christian message is to esteem others better and to be humble, having died to our very selves. We give job-seekers two different sets of messages and no help reconciling them. Do we not see the problem?
Why does the Church deal so badly with this? Where is the regulating effect of the Gospel in a corporate environment that downsizes real people at will and then asks questions later? Why must John Doe lose his job so that Jack Welch can write a bestselling book on being a winner? People simply are not capital—they are creations of God. Why does the Church in America tolerate this Darwinian “survival of the fittest” worldview in American business?
All this pressure on workers today is debilitating. If we wonder why most Christians look no different from the world around them, why are we not examining the one thing that consumes more of our time than anything else, our jobs? If the average American works 48 hours a week (and that rate of hours is still increasing), only sleep could possibly compete for our number one allegiance. With sleep deprivation epidemic, our employment is certainly the number one time consumer. Yet, why do we believe that we can do something for 48 hours in a week and believe it has no effect on our belief systems? If Christians got 48 hours a week alone with God, do you think the Church in this country would look radically different than it does?
That Christians act no different than the unsaved around them must have some roots in our work worldviews. Money issues are still the number one cause of divorce, even among believers. Since cash flow and employment are intimately related, we can’t ignore how work issues impact Christians in their marriages and family life. Nor can we believe that the worldview espoused in the workplace has no effect on one’s worldview outside of work. You believe in “swimming with the sharks” at work, you’ll certainly bring that view home. (Too often our translation of work worldviews to home paints our very neighbors as the competition, and yet we cry about lack of community all the time.) Christians who work for companies with a Darwinian worldview labor under that view for more hours a day than a Christian worldview. Is it any wonder then that most Christians don’t espouse a holistically Christian worldview?
We already have seen how the family was adversely affected by the Industrial Revolution. Home economies were abandoned. Families were split and made distant. In our age, we can expect to move every seven years—and this is increasing. Many people are chasing jobs as one place goes from boom to bust. Some who have tired of this have sought a return to Mayberry. Randy Frazee is a popular author who examines Christian community and daily lifestyle. He recently came on at Willow Creek Community Church as that church tries to rethink how to do community. Much of Frazee’s model resembles a return to a Mayberry-like existence. But the stick in the eye of this model (and you will hear more of this model now that Frazee is on staff at Willow Creek) is that Mayberry doesn’t exist any longer. All the jobs left town. No jobs, no town. And you simply can’t have a community of people stay a community if everyone in that community is in various stages of moving to pursue job changes, some of those elective, but an increasing number forced. Moves strain family ties even more. We talk about extended family more than ever after 9/11, but we are doing nothing to retain it.
Job pressures grab at every second of our day and it is our families that pay the penalty. Weekly commutes are longer, adding to the 48 hours dedicated to being at work and away from our families. Marriages are strained under the weight of activities and we are hearing more about couples who no longer have sex because there simply isn’t any time for it. Children must always compete for a harried parent’s attention, and we progressively must dump our kids into the care of strangers instead of family caring for them.
With all these pressures, is it any wonder that Christian families crumble at the same rate as non-Christian families? Constant moves to find work, breaking extended family ties by moving, bringing Darwinian worldviews home from work, trying to shove more activities in a day already consumed by more work hours than the day before—no family, even a Christian one, can function under those conditions.
Back in the day of this nation’s founding, the family didn’t operate that way. Both parents worked from home, taught their kids from home, and were around the home for each other. We now have the complete opposite of this, and yet we expect our industrialized family to work as smoothly.
As much as many Evangelicals have built an altar to family values, I never hear Focus on the Family talk about what we can do to address work issues so that both parents can work from home. I never hear them advocating for Americans downsized via outsourcing, offshoring or simple corporate greed amidst record profits. I know that once when my wife and I were in the middle of nine months with neither of us working after yet another downsizing, we called a Christian ministry that was offering to help via a book they were discussing for families in tough times like us. The book was a suggested “love gift” of $30. When we noted that we were burning through our savings as we tried to find work, it was funny to us that the suggested love gift remained a firm $30. So much for charity.
The Church of Jesus Christ has got to have a better answer.
In the next installment in this series, we’ll examine how the Church’s better answer has become “let’s model our church practices after leading business practices!” That will be part four of The Redemption of Corporate America in this series, The Christian & the Business World.
Thanks for reading. Your comments are most definitely welcome!
Previous post in this series: The Christian & the Business World #9: The Redemption of Corporate America, Part 2
Next post in this series: The Christian & the Business World #11: The Redemption of Corporate America, Part 4