How we treat our fellow man.

An introduction from Rosie Branson Gill.

A hatful of thank yous for a great event to 18 Reasons and Bi-Rite.  Thanks in particular to Rosie for being willing to share her thoughts that night and for letting us share them here!

Intro: January 17th, 2011

18 Reasons class with Ari Weinzweig

Crash Course:  The Energy Crisis in the American Workplace – Why Sustainable Business is the Way to Go

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr Day! I say that earnestly and with intention, not superficially – just another series of words that should roll of the tongue, so it does.  I bring up today’s holiday because tonight’s event with Ari Weinzweig, for me, evokes one of the fundamental tenets of Dr. King’s life work: how we treat our fellow man.

Tonight’s class, and Ari’s new book “Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Part #1 – A Lapsed Anarchists Approach to Building a Great Business”, are about, when it gets down to it, corporate and food sustainability.  Sustainability is a bit of a trendy word right now. Like organic five years ago, sustainability pops up in almost every food conversation.  And, not surprisingly, the court is still out on what exactly it means to live a sustainable life and have a sustainable food system.  “Must I eat food only grown within a certain distance?” “Should I use wind power, solar energy, or bio char?” “If I live east of the Mississippi, should I only drink wine from Europe, but if I live west of the Mississippi, am I limited to California, Orgeon and Washington?” (if so, I live on the wrong freakin’ side of the Mississippi). And, getting closer to tonight’s topic: “How should I treat my employees?” I want to elaborate on that point – the treatment of workers is fundamental to the sustainable food movement.  Fair pay, health insurance, vacation days, paternity and maternity leave – all of these can pretty easily be argued as necessities in any workplace labeled as “sustainable.”

However, do you notice – health insurance, fair wages, maternity leave: these are still all “things,” quantitative just like the number of miles your food travels before it gets in your mouth.  And, all of these quantifiable things are still somewhat malleable. Like any business decision, there is room for negotiation.

There is one aspect of sustainability, however, that I think is immutable, so fundamental to the term and the lifestyle the term engenders that if we get it wrong, then we might as well have built castles out of sand. It is not a thing, or measurable only by numbers.  It the same aspect of Mr. King’s work that I find inspiring – how we treat one another.

We must make treating each other well a priority. Yes, that includes health insurance, but it also includes genuine concern for more ephemeral aspects of life – how someone’s day is going; how a work environment affects a person; that they are fed well, well-trained, empowered, and nourished.

Generosity, grace, gratitude – these are qualities that any sustainable business must engender – in its employees, in its mission statement, in its guests, in its vendors.  What is great about this, is that we have control over those things. Weather, policy, and lobbyists – we cannot control them so easily. But we can control how we act towards one another. And in reading Ari’s book I learned about a man and a business that infuses, intentionally, their culture with kindness towards and concern for people.

I also appreciate how pragmatic Ari is and how honest. He, too, rolled his eyes when first asked to do “touch-feely” business exercises, but he was strong enough and open minded enough to see that when something is genuine, then it simply cannot be touchy feely. It is just good.

Look, I am from Boston.  We’re a little tougher on the east coast. We don’t say “hellah rad, dude”, for christ’s sake, we say “wicked pissah”.  I cringe at the touchy-feely, mostly because I don’t often find it sincere.  However, in Ari’s book, at Bi-Rite, and I am sure at Zingerman’s, the wisdom of putting people first is evident. The proof is in the pudding, and in the numbers – two metaphors that are applicable with this audience.

Ari – it is a pleasure to welcome someone so thoroughly invested in creating a better world and proving that the health of a business and the people it touches can not only co-exist but are the same thing.

We have a lot of work in front of us to enact the change necessary in order for us all to work in environments that inspire us to be our best selves.  Here is a quotation from Dr. King that notes the tenor and size of that change. There is a lot of work yet to be done, but  I think that if we  listen to Dr. King, and keep his words in our hearts while we follow Ari’s great business advice,  we may at least be on the right track when we go to work everyday:

Dr. King said:

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”