Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chick-Fil-A Isn't Wrong, But Isn't Right Either

It's become a news item - why the hell does it have to be a news item? - that Chick-Fil-A, a fast food establishment that focuses on chicken-based dishes, has an anti-gay stance.

So what?  So do lots of churches, individuals, and assorted other organizations.  What's the big deal?

Well, the big deal is the Chick-Fil-A is a service company.  They provide a service, but they propound a philosophy that alienates a segment of the population.  That's just bad business.  More on that in a moment.

What other organizations have an anti-gay stance?  The Boy Scouts of America, for one thing.  Never mind that evidence exists that Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, himself might have had a homosexual pedophilic inclination of his own, they are a privately held organization with a deeply religious foundation.  As such, their philosophy isn't something that can be regulated by government.  They are their own deal, and should be.  And how to deal with their anti-gay stance is simple:

If you find that objectionable, don't join the Boy Scouts.  I did join the Scouts, but shouldn't have.  I didn't enjoy it very much, though there were a few lessons that stick to this day.  The most useful ones have had to do with how to tie assorted knots, but I picked some of those up from my dad, and Dad was never inclined to recommend anything as harebrained as a winter campout, so on balance Dad wins out as a more trustworthy former of young minds than the BSA.

So, back to Chick-Fil-A.  I'm going to be completely honest, I love Chick-Fil-A.  The food is very good and did you know that if you asked them nicely, they'll make a lunch sandwich for your breakfast?  It takes a few minutes extra, but it's no problem at all.  Anywhere else you go, the lunchtime menu is simply not available and won't be until 11:00 or so; Chick-Fil-A's people (in my admittedly limited experience of exactly ONE store on Clinton Highway in Knoxville, TN) are extremely pleasant, accommodating, and efficient.  You want the chicken club sandwich for breakfast?  "Just take a seat and we'll bring it to you when it's ready."  Table service at a fast-food joint, no less.  The quality of service at CFA blows everyone else out of the water.

But now here's this other matter: CFA's anti-gay stance, or to be more precise, anti-gay marriage stance.  Well, that bugs me a little - it's kind of like being bitten by a dog you like.  I like CFA and that isn't going to change, but I stand firmly in approval of gay marriage rights.  I don't think that's a right that should be withheld from anyone for any reason.

As comedian Denis Leary says, "Gay people should absolutely have the right to marry each other.  Then they too can harbor years of resentment, bicker about bills and be generally miserable just like everyone else."

I never understand where comedians are coming from when they say stuff like that.  I don't harbor resentments or bicker with my wife.  If I did, we wouldn't have gotten married.

The Bible-based argument against gay marriage is right there in black and white, and since CFA is both privately owned and operated by a devout Southern Baptist who takes his denomination seriously, he's totally within his rights to use his company as a bully pulpit, if he wants, to make his convictions known.  I hope he backs away from them just a bit, however: as I said, alienating a portion of your market is just bad business.  If it bites you on the ass, you have no one to blame but yourself.  But again since it's a privately held company, no one else will be blaming you, either.

One of the arguments I keep hearing against gay marriage is this: that it somehow dilutes straight people's marriages.  How is that, exactly?  I only married the one person, the only dilution my marriage can experience is going to come from exactly two people: her or me.  No sign of that yet.

No, if you really want to prevent the devaluation of marriage, don't get divorced.  Make the commitment and stick to it. I think it's asking too much to do something as crazy as outlaw divorce, people change over the course of years and undisclosed preexisting issues can come to light that cause intolerable interpersonal strain.  Divorce has to exist as an option.  But the fact that it does exist, in my mind, is one of those things that makes marriage even stronger.  If I've been married for forty years when I could've gotten divorced at any time, doesn't that simply point up the depth of my commitment?  Not lashed to each other by laws or religious tenets, our marriage is what the Bible intended for it to be in the first place: a permanent, voluntary union of souls, not an artificially enforced union of government assets or religious practitioners.

My point, at the end of all this verbiage, is the Chick-Fil-A is actually doing marriage no favors.  Not in my opinion.

And on an aside, it's absolutely stupid of Boston (yes, the city) to disallow Chick-Fil-A to open any locations because of their professional convictions.  They're many of the same convictions espoused by churches of many different denominations; have they disallowed any churches?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Stay Fired, Lopez

Tomas Lopez is a lifeguard with a conscience.

Monday, July 02, Lopez was alerted by beachgoers that a man was in distress and needed his assistance.  Lopez immediately arranged for other lifeguards to cover his station and ran to help.

Typical everyday drama, right?  Handsome young fellow pelting across the sand to provide CPR or first aid.  Except there's a twist to this story:  Lopez got fired for doing his job.

These things don't happen in a vacuum, of course.  Lopez wouldn't get canned just for saving somebody.  It turns out that two pertinent things happened in conjunction with this event: the man in distress was way outside his zone - completely outside the zone that is covered by the company that provides the lifeguard services and is Lopez' employer - and Lopez had to leave his station to provide the assistance.

It's one thing that he had to leave his station.  Ideally, there's two lifeguards at every station: one to provide assistance when needed, the other to continue watching the water while one is away.  Lopez says his station was covered while he was away.

But Lopez wasn't just outside his zone.  He sprinted a full quarter-mile to go aid the victim.  The victim had already been brought up to the beach by the time Lopez arrived, but Lopez, along with the assistance of an off-duty nurse, stabilized the victim and monitored his condition until an ambulance arrived.  Then he returned to his duty station, filled out an incident report, and was fired.

According to the company's spokesman, it was because he had violated company rules against leaving his station.  Lopez, in his own defense, is unrepentant.  He's quoted in a Miami Herald article as saying, "...someone needed my help.  I wasn't going to say no."  Good on you, Lopez.  That's the right attitude.

The company's defense that Lopez' actions opened them up to liabilities because of the unguarded station is weak.  Lopez says other lifeguards watched his station while he went to assist the swimmer who was swimming in an unprotected area.  Here's where the relationship breaks down.

Lopez is hired as a lifeguard.  Thankfully this young man - he's only 21 - has ironclad principles and stands by them.  He's a lifeguard, someone's in trouble, he's helping out.  That's the equation he works under.  Not exactly in his area?  Okay - he's going after the trouble regardless.  But the company's policy of punishing workers who deliver above and beyond the sharply delineated boundaries of its service area is caddish to the extreme.

There are three ways this could have played out.  Let's look at them:

Lopez does nothing
Imagine the PR nightmare for both the company and Lopez if, suffering and drowning a mere fifty yards beyond the service boundaries, Lopez had adhered to company policy and not moved to provide assistance to a drowning victim?  He would be covered by company policy, but would suffer dreadfully in the public eye...and the company would, too.  It's slightly less damning if it happens a solid quarter-mile away, but still not great.

Lopez acts and is punished
This is where we are now.  Lopez is a hero but Jeff Ellis and Associates is coming out of this looking like some serious beancounting, coldhearted bastards.  Sorry guys, that's just how it looks.  And turning around in the heat of public scrutiny to offer Lopez his job back doesn't make it better.

Lopez acts and is lauded
The best bet would have been if someone at JEllis had given Lopez an "Over The Top" gift card for dinner somewhere.  He leapt into action, overdelivering and generally saving the day like a hero.  Open the company up to liability, maybe - but there were other workers on hand to continue protecting the service area.  Add a sound bite to any interviews, something like "Well, we don't actually police that part of the beach.  Mr. X got crazy lucky that Lopez was able to help in a timely fashion.  Violate company policy?  Well, in a word, yes.  It is a violation.  But he helped save a man's life, so I think we can let that slide."

As you can see, the best option would be for Lopez to act - which he did, thus holding up his end of the social contract - and to not be punished for saving someone's life.  That that action stands in violation of an arbitrary company policy is beside the point and should not come into play, not in this instance.  You don't take disciplinary action against people who are helping other people, not when the actions the helpers take aren't in violation of any law.  Go ahead and make it clear that policy exists, policy whose intent is to protect the company from ill intent, but don't let it be what defines your company's culture.

And that brings us to the current conundrum.  JEllis is offering Lopez his job back.  I don't think he should take it.

"And why not?" You might ask.  "It's a tough job market, you know." Indeed it is, but there are some jobs you just shouldn't take.  If the company's kneejerk reaction to delivering far in excess of the company's promised coverage is to fire the individual who actually did the delivery, he should stay the hell away.  They don't deserve him.

Will he be inundated with job offers?  I don't know, but I certainly hope so.  If this young man's instinct is to bust his ass to save mine, regardless of whether it's his job to do so, that's somebody I'd definitely want to keep around, and put on the payroll.  I should think that any company that has any kind of customer service would be extremely fortunate to have Lopez on its side.

Good luck to you, Tomas Lopez.  You've earned it.