Dying Sailors and a Valuable Lesson for Employees

The Stormy Sea by Gustave Courbet
The first Outward Bound school opened in 1941 for a reason that I think has as much validity now as it did then. Listen to what was happening to WWII sailors:
"Lawrence Holt, President of the steamship company Blue Funnel Line...was greatly disturbed about the number of young sailors who were losing their lives in the service of his company. Battles at sea with Nazi submarines often resulted in sailors having to abandon ship."
"Time and time again Holt noticed that older sailors made up the greatest proportion of survivors." 
"Young men, though often more physically able, seemed to be lost because they lacked the sheer will to withstand the ordeals of ocean travel by lifeboat or raft." (From The Role of the Instructor, by Ken Kalisch)
This fascinates me. One would think physical prowess and youthful drive lead to success, but it turns out they don't. And I'm not sure these characteristics succeed in the pursuit of challenging careers either.

I spent last weekend with thousands of students who sat in session after session learning how the Christian faith, in particular, can inform work. These young attendees weren't learning how to proselytize or hang religious calendars in their cubicles. Instead, they were learning how to study various trades and career paths and the systems that shape and run them; how to orient their vocational vision toward addressing and correcting what's broken in those careers and using the careers to address and correct what is broken on the client end; and how to surrender to a divine call that honors God in the way the work gets done.

In practical speech, it works like this: As Jesus healed lepers, today's engineers protect travelers. As Jesus gave to the poor, today's shoe salesmen promote generosity. As Jesus spread his message with humility and truth, today's advertisers market honestly and with compassion.  

Or that's the way it's supposed to be. Perhaps I should have said, "Sometimes advertisers..." or "Advertisers try to market...." Advertising is one of those careers where the young are often, as we might say, lost because they lack the sheer will to withstand the ordeals of the industry.

I say this as an outsider, and to be fair, I'm pretty sure I would get lost if advertising were my career. Challenges face new employees in every field but advertisers especially seem unusually susceptible to compromising situations. The intersection of mass media, consumer wants and relative anonymity (Can you name anyone who has made a Super Bowl commercial?) creates enormous pressure to do whatever the boss/client demands, even if it makes no sense restoratively. And yet. And yet, it is no less a worthy vocation.

In tougher fields - like advertising - what employees need is a way to build character and resilience and wisdom to buck the broken systems and sustain new, neighbor-loving approaches. I don't know whether that looks like a program or mentorship or simply a community of stalwart encouragers, but if it works anything like wilderness experiences do, then a combination of duress and success is needed. Conscience-squeezing situations, risk, biblical formation, courageous stands, creative alternatives, and at least occasional victories are important elements that increase the survival rate of novitiates.

I've been both the young sailor and the old sailor and and I've drowned a few times. Mostly because in my youth I lacked the sheer will to withstand the ordeals of [fill in the blank].

7 comments:

Cheryl Smith February 24, 2011 at 8:51 AM  

Fascinating. Praying today for God to show me how to walk out this journey with endurance, and a willingness to do what honors Him.

David Rupert February 24, 2011 at 12:54 PM  

"New, neighbor loving approaches". Wow. that's a grand vision for corporate America. Is it possible?

Sam Van Eman February 28, 2011 at 9:42 AM  

Amen, Cheryl.

David, I have this fantasy of there being an entire "community" of New Breed websites: New Breed of Educators, New Breed of Physicians, New Breed of Lawyers... We would all live, so to speak, in a virtual neighborhood, each of us caring professionally for our neighbors (i.e. our clients) next door. Not too different than The High Calling but more concentrated around specific vocations.

I don't have the skill set to build this sort of community, but to answer your question, yes, I believe the vision you refer to is possible.

Marcus Goodyear March 7, 2011 at 12:37 PM  

Sam, that was actually the original vision of HighCallingBlogs.com. It turned out to be much more difficult to implement than we anticipated. (People wouldn't commit to a community that did exist and I could sell internally the need to build a space for a collection of communities that didn't exist.)

However, I think we're closer than ever to a tipping point that will allow us to head in that direction...

The high calling of lawyers, the high calling of educators, the high calling of physicians...

Of course, if you build it first we will happily bow to you.

Sam Van Eman March 8, 2011 at 11:07 AM  

You're the builder, my friend. I'll practice the high calling of editing and providing feedback. :)

Sheila March 9, 2011 at 8:18 AM  

This fascinates me. I'm picturing organizations that fit Sam's fanasty as virtual outposts on hills, beacons here and there.

Or maybe there are many, many more than we imagine, and the key is to get those organizations to raise their corporate hands and say, "me too."

It's early on the left coast. I think what Marcus said would mean, in my analogy, that it's the raising of hands that's difficult to coordinate.

Sam Van Eman March 9, 2011 at 9:03 PM  

Sheila, I like the beacon image and I supposed it's what is happening in the local communities where those orgs/companies exist as well as in the minds of the specific customers they serve. What would help, as you imply, is to help more people see exactly what they're doing that puts them on the hill.

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