Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes
It has been my experience, all too often learned the hard way, that if someone in my processing plant is having trouble doing their job well, my approach to dealing with the problem is different, and more favorable to that employee, if I first step into that particular work position and see what they are seeing, rather than standing back and dissecting the work performance from a distance. (Wow, how is that for a run-on sentence?) But my point is, no matter how well I know the job, and regardless of how much I have worked that position in the past, if I put myself into the worker’s shoes at that particular moment, seeing how the machines, material, and even co-workers are working at the moment, my management of the situation is always better. I believe that no one in the egg industry understands the egg processing environment better than I. But I have learned that I just can’t see the little things that are causing the problem I’m trying to resolve, unless I’m in their shoes. So, to make myself a better manager, I make it a point to work all the positions from time to time. This also has the added benefit of showing my employees that I do know what I’m talking about, and that I am not asking them to do anything that I can’t or won’t do myself. But like I said, after walking in their shoes I often approach changes and improvements in a totally different way then I had intended.
I am learning this same lesson as I seek to understand and write about my ancestors. I don’t think that anyone in my extended family has a better grasp of our family history than I do. In preparation for writing our history into a novel, I have spent many years gathering everything that is written on our family.
I am not the only member of our family who has researched and recorded our story. In fact, there are many in the previous generation who have gathered the facts, recorded our family stories, and even visited around the world at our ancestors’ homelands, interviewing distant relatives and touring original hometowns and farms. The foundation of my research has had a vast amount of information as a starting point. I have thick files on most of my grandparents, back two or three generations. Even a couple books have already been written on some of their lives.
But this week, as I prepared to introduce one more “character” into my story, I have studied the real life of my great great grandmother, Inger. Like most of the ancestors which I am writing about, I have a few pictures of Inger. I have spent years reading everything anyone has ever written about her. I have studied her pictures to the point that I can look past the “stiff photographs of the 1800’s of old people” to where I can “see” Inger as a child full of wonder, as a young adult full of dreams and plans for the future, and as a mature adult who carries a life full of experiences.
So I thought I really knew Inger as I began my new chapter which introduces her into my novel. But then I started writing… not about her, like everyone else has done, but for her… seeing life though her eyes. I see things differently when I attempt to put words into her mouth. Her shoes aren’t comfortable to walk in, but it is already an experience that I treasure.
So that’s got me thinking about the here and now. How many people do I think that I know? As I size up and judge my neighbor, my coworkers, my friends, from my point of view, it’s easy to judge. It’s easy to know what they should do and how they should feel. But it’s a different experience for me when I truly get into their shoes and take a few steps.
I can visit with my father every day. Asking how he is doing and how he is feeling, as he endures a lingering illness. But I feel like the processing manager who “thinks” he knows what his workers are going though by just standing back and watching from a distance. My mother is so quiet and unassuming that few, including myself, really know the personal burden she carries as she supports my dad in his illness.
So now I am wondering about my Beautiful Wife, who I have a close and personal association with. How well do I know how she feels inside? What burdens does she carry that I just can’t see from my position? In that sense, I’m like a processing manager, who smugly stands back and watches from a distance?
I think I need to learn from my work place. I am a better manager by walking up to an employee in my processing plant and giving them a break while I step in and really see what life is like for them at work. I think I would be a better son, husband, and father if I did the same thing for my family that I do at work. It’s just something for me to think about… to work on.
Now, if you don’t hear from me on spaces for a few weeks, you’ll know that I am having entirely too much fun telling the story of Inger, as I write this next chapter.