After years of working in a pizza joint, I was ecstatic at the thought of moving up in the teenage job scene. I got a position as a checker in our town’s main grocery store. No more going home smelling like yeast, with pizza sauce up my arms and mopping floors all night long. Nope, nope, nope.
In our training meeting, I was incredibly impressed when they got to the conversation regarding the importance of bringing forth concerns or observations about how things could be done better. The manager stated, “when you’re new, you see things that those of us who have been working here for a long time don’t notice. There could be something that is unsafe or damaging. Please, please, please bring these observations to us so we can address them. We need your eyes.”
Sadly, I ended up having to leave that job before day 1 because they wouldn’t allow me to have Sundays off. Huge bummer, especially considering the fact that I was so impressed with their respect for new perspectives.
A few years later, after transferring to BYU, I got a job working for a search engine optimization company. At first I was in sales and was pretty successful. I had been well-trained and overall, really believed in the product that was being sold. I was well-liked by management and the folks who closed sales, so overall, not bad. But I was never really one to be a salesperson so I requested to be moved to client services.
After a few weeks of working in my new department, I was really disheartened by what I saw. I realized that all of those statistics and sales pitches were misleading. Most of the clients had not received the promised results and that “six month money-back guarantee” really meant, “we’ll basically stop talking to you and hope you don’t notice.”
For a couple months, I tried as hard as I could to meet the needs of my clients. I worked with the SEO engineers, tried to stay on top of new clients requests and needs, worked extra hours and overall, did everything feasible on my end to deliver for these clients. I had been on both sides of the company now. I knew what was being promised to them by the sales team and I just didn’t feel comfortable not delivering. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t deliver the results they had been promised. It simply wasn’t in my control.
One fateful day, the management came down and told us that after their initial welcoming call, we were expressly forbidden from contacting current clients until after the six month window had passed, despite the fact that they had been promised a monthly update. I felt very uneasy about this and decided to approach the management. That earlier training from the grocery store manager rang in my ears–“please bring your concerns to us. We need your eyes.” I pointed out that we had made a promise to people and that my role in the company was to deliver on that promise. In no way did I feel comfortable intentionally misleading these people or violating our relationship of trust.
Unfortunately, my concerns were not wanted. In fact, I lost my job a few days later. I was told that I did not respect the company and that since I didn’t like it and what they were doing, I could not stay. It is literally the only time in my entire life that I have been fired from a job, let alone let go without a glowing review. And all for speaking my values and my conscience, among other active, temple-attending members of the Church. To say that I was crushed was an understatement.
It’s hard for me to not draw parallels to my experience with raising concerns in the Church to my experience in the workforce (certainly the Church is a corporate entity in conjunction with a spiritual one, so the comparison is apt). There has been an unspoken belief that we should not raise our concerns for fear of censure. You risk being labeled as lacking faith. You might be released from your callings and the cloud of shame thrown your way because “obviously, you just need to have more faith.”
Faith can certainly help us to find peace amid the turmoil and the pain, but faith does not make the problem go away. Telling people–the whistle blowers–that they shouldn’t be doing that, that they didn’t blow their whistle nicely enough, didn’t have the right tone, and didn’t dress up the problem the right way, etc., does not make the problem go away. In fact, all it does is insinuate that whistle blowing is a bad thing. You could be let go from the community. You could have your faith, your ethics, your devotion and your very character chastised. But all of this does nothing to address the gaping hole in the floor. None of this does anything more than offer up the whistle blowers as a scapegoat.
What will we stand for in the kingdom of God? Will we be the ones to suggest, “please, if you see a problem, bring it to us. Let us know about it. Let’s work together to solve it” or will we be the ones to say, “if you don’t like that hole in the floor, that hole that is causing many to break their legs, just don’t come into this store. We don’t want you anyway!” Or will we even be, “you’re welcome to blow that whistle under these conditions (but those conditions are continually shifting so, best of luck…). Anything else and sorry, but you’re outta here.”
I sincerely hope that we can become a church so devoted to building the kingdom that we recognize whistle blowers as “fresh eyes”–those who see the things that others cannot or who have heightened sensibilities. Now is the time that we will prove ourselves. I hope we do so well.