At three o’clock last Wednesday, I had already left the office, when I got a call from our human resources director, Junior Luma. He said he had some bad news. Junior is a rock steady guy with a deep, deep voice and he never gets bent out of shape about anything. When he calls to say he has bad news, it always makes my heart skip about six or more beats. I asked quickly if my kids were ok. He said yes. Whew.
He let me know that there had been an ‘incident” after I had left work. One of our workers had hit another worker over the head with a hammer in the metal stamping room. The worker that had been hit had been taken to the hospital and there was blood all over the floor in the artisan house. The housekeepers were attempting to clean things up without gloves on and all of the artisans were creating a spectator mob scene.
Sometimes I shake my head and wonder. I wonder how long it is going to take before what I have poured in will finally be realized. When people have not had opportunity, education, psychological awareness, or had their needs consistently met, they do funny things. They may not know how to use the bathroom, they may not know their colors, they don’t know that bullying is bad, they may not see anything wrong with lying so long as the outcome works in their favor. There is so much more that is going on in our artisan house than just making jewelry or pottery. We are teaching life skills. We are teaching how to be kind. We are teaching respect. We are teaching things that you and I might have gotten told since we were four years old- don’t hit, don’t bite, be nice, be honest, don’t steal, think before you act. None of these things can be taken for granted in a poverty culture. In their hierarchy of needs, survival is at the forefront. And ensuring survival is the most important factor in how they behave.
Do what you need to do, to feed your kids, to feed yourselves, to pay the rent. And whatever means they use to meet their needs, might not be ethical, but we, who have always had our needs met, can certainly not understand their position enough to stand in judgment about how they go about their business of survival. We can only try to observe what is ultimately helpful or not helpful in the long run and encourage responses and behaviors that are ultimately going to be more helpful for their goals and needs.
Hitting someone over the head with a hammer is certainly not helpful.
Of course I have to fire him right? Of course we can’t tolerate this kind of behavior in the work environment.
This is a no-brainer.
Or is it?
Yadson had been being bullied. For days the other guys at the table had been calling him vile names and mocking him. On the day of the incident, he had come upstairs to get some help after his manager was unresponsive in his attempts for advocacy. No one was around to help him in the office, as Junior was out on an airport run. Yadson went back down to work, with no relief or defenses and the bullying continued. There was a scuffle and he grabbed a hammer and swung. The hammer that they use every day to stamp the words “joy” and “hope”, “grace” and “peace”. This hammer was used as a weapon in defense of being bullied.
I feel like I am to blame. I did not have measures in place that would safeguard our artisans from verbal abuse. I had maybe not spent enough time coaching our managers on protecting their team members. I feel like I failed Yadson. I feel angry at the bullies and disappointed at his manager for not stepping in on his defense. Yadson has been with me for about five years. He is a good worker and a single father, trying to take care of his child on his own.
He wrote me a heartfelt email on the day it happened.
Hi Shelley.This is yadson the bad guy,I asked Someone to please translate this part to make sure you really understand me.I never meant to do any wrong it was never my intention and I am not putting the BLAME on someone else. Yes it is my fault and I am ready for your punishment, but please give me that one last chance do not fire me.You can change me spot if you want, you can put me somewhere alone if you want anything I am ready for any thing cause I gotta take care of my son and myself cause the mom passed away.Please take your time to read my message I pray you do understand me. I know I made the biggest mistake in my life,Please tell me something.I know you will listen to you Heart.