Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

“Where have all the flowers gone?

Long time passing

Where have all the flowers gone?

Long time ago

Where have all the flowers gone?

Girls have picked them every one

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?”

These are lyrics to one stanza of the song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” written by singer/songwriter Pete Seeger in 1955. The “Flowers” song essentially laments loss and expresses grief for life's transience.

The words came to mind recently when I was laid off from my job of 14 years as director of leisure services. One of my senior managers was also laid off, and the entire leisure-services division was disbanded, with the staff distributed among other departments.

The decision came as a total surprise; I didn’t see that one coming. But then they say the bullet you don’t hear is the one that gets you.

For the first time in my 40-year adult working life, I find myself jobless.

It’s a long story, how and why this happened--new city manager, desperate times, misguided decisions. But that is for another time and not the subject of this missive. It happens, and life goes on.

Ownership Is An Illusion

I wrote about this in the “Week-Ender” blog in July, pointing out that, in this world, nobody is bulletproof. A few responses came in commiserating with my situation. Many others have experienced it in the past, there are probably some experiencing it today, and more will undoubtedly join us before the economy climbs out of the primordial ooze in which it has become mired.

One of the blog responders made a telling remark. Terry wrote: “It has made me rethink who I am, as an employee and as a person. Younger employees, of a different generation, are sometimes accused of not making the 'buy in’ to their jobs. I am now learning from them--my 'ownership’ was an illusion easily swept away by people I’ve never met.”

That’s where the song comes in. Where has all the buy-in gone? Where has the loyalty gone? Where has the team spirit gone? Where has the respect gone? Where has the concept gone that assumes if a person works hard and does a good job, is honest, has the best interests of the “company” at heart, and is loyal, that person will be treated with dignity and respect?

Call me naïve, but I think there was a time when all this was important, when it all counted for something.

Call me blind, but I think there are still places and jobs where it is still important. I think it merely depends on who is in charge and how that person treats people.

I fear that with the emphasis so decidedly on the “bottom line,” the human element has been so diminished that it may be in danger of extinction.

At what point do we, as a society, start treating our fellow humans with common courtesy instead of accepting what is becoming the “new normal,” which apparently is to cast people off like cattle, to allow the “bottom line” instead of past performance, loyalty, and common courtesy to guide our treatment of people?

Maybe I am just a dreamer. Maybe I am holding on to a concept that is no longer relevant in today’s society. Maybe what Terry said is true, that this ownership was an illusion.

Where’s The Loyalty?

I remember in 1996 as I was preparing to retire from the Marine Corps after 20 years of service, I was told by transition trainers that I would probably have three to five jobs within the first five years after retirement. That was the average for people leaving the service.

I had two jobs: one six-month gap-filler, then the 14-year job as a public administrator. I beat the odds, but now I’m not sure if that was a good thing.

To me, my employment was more than a job. I was working for the city I lived in. I took the job seriously and personally. I worked for my family and my neighbors, for people I saw all around town.

I took pride in everything I was able to accomplish because it was helping improve my community. I felt deep loyalty both to the people I served and to those elected and appointed officials for whom I worked.

But it was an illusion because in the end someone I didn’t even know made a recommendation without consulting me or anyone on my staff, and five people who I thought I knew voted to approve it. My loyalty and dedication was a dim, last-place finisher in the race to reach the “bottom line.”

If this is the “new normal,” a term I am quickly learning to detest, then I am not on board with it. I am an optimist and will always look for the silver lining in the storm cloud.

But I am also a realist and know hard decisions have to be made. There are finite resources but infinite requirements. In most any organization more than 60 percent of costs are personnel-related, and when it comes time to find savings, that’s a big target.

In my opinion, none of that justifies treating people like cattle. It doesn’t justify rewarding good work, loyalty, and dedication with unexplained, impersonal, and generic dismissal, even though that may be the easy way out for those making the decisions.

On a national scale, does it really help the economy to put people out in a depressed economy with no job and few--if any--credible prospects? How does it serve the greater good? It may help someone’s bottom line, but it seems to me it makes the overall problem worse.

Where have all the flowers gone? Where has all the loyalty gone? Where has the humanity gone? When will we ever learn?

Soon, I hope, before it’s too late.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is a regular contributor to PRB and lives in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (678) 350-8642 or e-mail cwo4usmc@comcast.net.