Me, Myself, and Phil

A customer contacted me last year to recommend a book called Me, Myself, and Bob.  It is a memoir written by Phil Vischer, the founder of the kids’ Christian (hence, the religious overtones) TV series Veggie Tales.

I’ve read a lot of memoirs- and I’ve read a lot of business books.  This was a nice blend- the story of a businessman who had a wild ride navigating his way from start-up to bankruptcy.

There is a chapter called “Lessons Learned”.  #2 spoke to me and has had an unexpected impact.  His message of “you don’t deserve it” and helping others is profound.  An excerpt…

Thing I Learned #2: Ignore the voice that says, “You deserve it.” Whenever I travel, I now rent compact cars and stay at the Hampton Inn.  Always.  I don’t care how successful my new business might become, I have learned that once I start upgrading my travel accommodations, I’ll start upgrading everything else too.  Everything will become more expensive.

It all starts, I think, when a voice shows up inside your head one day and whispers, “You deserve it.”  I remember the first time I heard that voice.  Big Idea was booming, and I was beginning to hire real “executives.”  Coming from companies like Kraft and GE, they were used to being paid like executives and living like executives.  They drove executive cars, lived in executive houses, and ate executive meals.  Up until this point, I had always lived modestly, though more out of necessity than deep philosophical conviction.  But now I was hanging out with executives, and their lives looked like fun.  And then that little voice showed up in my head and said, “You’re an executive, too, you know.  After all, they all work for you.”  Good heavens.  The voice was right.  I was more than just an “executive”- I was the CEO of a successful company! I was the executive of the executives! “Look at all the hard work you’ve done,” the voice continued.  “Look what you’ve built.  Don’t you deserve it?” And suddenly my cars started getting nicer and my meals fancier.  I started eying nicer houses in nicer neighborhoods- “executive” neighborhoods.  And suddenly everything at Big Idea started costing more.  Meals, travel, equipment, everything- because we were successful, and we deserved it.

The little whisper- “You deserve it”- comes, I believe, from the worst part of our sinful natures, the part that always wants another cookie, a bigger house, a nicer TV.  I’m pretty sure it’s the same voice that told Hitler he “deserved” Poland.  Advertisers know the power of that voice, and they use it relentlessly.  The new car, the ridiculously high-fat dessert, the fantastically overpriced watch- do you need it? Of course not.  But you deserve it.  I have come to hate that voice.  I will avoid any product that tries to influence my purchase decision by telling me I deserve it.  Why? First of all, the appeal is insanely selfish.  If I deserve it, it must follow that someone else does not.  I have achieved more.  I am special.  As a Christian, of course, it’s horrifically bad theology, throwing the whole “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” thing right out the window along with a hundred other verses about self-denial and putting others first.  What do I really deserve?  Death.  That’s what I deserve.  Death apart from God.  I am a selfish dweeb standing before a holy, righteous God.  Imagine me trying to explain to God why I “deserve” a nicer car than they guy next to me, “Well, I’ve worked so hard, and- as I’m sure you can see- I’m very successful.”  Ha.  Good one.  Seeking our own comfort over the comfort of others is a pretty good definition of the word sin. And yet there I was, Mr. Bible College, allowing myself to be coaxed down that path by the fact that my business card now sported the letters “CEO.”

In addition to bad theology, though, thinking I deserve more than others is bad business.  Concluding that I deserve a more lavish lifestyle than the people around me fails to consider the fact that the people around me are, more than likely, the people I’m supposed to be serving.  And yet here I am, looking down on them, judging them “less deserving” than myself.  I’ve worked so hard to get where I am.  I travel, sacrifice, slave away night after night.  Not like these other folks.

Tell me, how easy is it to serve someone you consider less deserving than yourself?  Nearly impossible.  Want to kill a company quickly?  Decide you are “better”.  Executive pride kills companies.  Christian selflessness, on the other hand, is not just biblically sound, it is also good business.

I had an experience years ago that I think of often when I find myself tempted with “executive pride.”  I was riding home on the subway after putting in one of my killer marathons in postproduction.  It was probably 4:00 a.m., and I was half-dead.  I felt proud, though- proud of being such a “hard worker.”  When I got off my train, a thirty-something Hispanic man got on, headed downtown.  From the way he was dressed and the guys just like him I saw in our neighborhood every day, I knew his story almost immediately.  He was a family man, married with two or three kids.  He was headed downtown at 4:00 a.m. for a menial job in the kitchen of a restaurant or hotel.  It was probably one of two or even three jobs he held, all menial, barely above minimum wage.  All to feed his family.  I watched him sit quietly on the train and felt the air leak out of my puffed-up ego.  Who was the “hard worker” on the subway that night?  Who “deserved” a nicer car?  A nicer house?  Yeah, I pulled all-nighters every now and then, but it was work I loved, for which I was well paid.  Give me sixteen hour days filled with thankless, unfulfilling menial labor and see how long I’d last.  Who “deserved” a better life?  It sure wasn’t me.

From now on, I will do whatever I can to eradicate the presumption within any organization I lead that executives “deserve” more than regular people around them.  For me, from here on out, it starts with a Dodge Neon from Dollar Rent-a-Car and a room at the Hampton Inn.


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2 Responses to Me, Myself, and Phil

  1. Thanks for posting this, Mark. I would never have seen it otherwise. It’s the sort of wisdom we need to hear more of. Not only does it address the wastefulness of the ‘entitlement’ illusion, but also the obscene spread in income that’s been created between upper managment and people on the floor. I’ve always thought that program Ben and Jerry’s opened their factory with was the best: the top guy(s) pay is set in a ratio with the bottom guy’s pay; the only way the top guy can pay himself more is to raise the bottom guy’s salary, in other words, holistic financial thought by design. All the boats floating higher rather than they guys at the top being extractive.

    I want to thank you for taking the full page MOMs ad in FLAVOR magazine (which I wish was still free! 😉 There’s probably no more thorough support for artisan farming than the influence of FLAVOR (and Edible Chesapeake before it). It’s artisan farmers who use land so that everyone benefits, not just those of us who eat the great food, but the neighbors who get cleaner air and all the biota that enjoy the non-toxic soil and botanical diversity of small biological farms managed in a craftsman-like fashion.

    While I’ve drifted so far off topic, I’m going to go ahead and post this incredible manifesto from Julian Rose, co-chair of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC) that Kim Harke posted on her WAPF blog yesterday. It beautifully itemized the needs and benefits of small scale local artisan farming. -AB

    Manifesto for 21st Century Food and Farming

    The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC)
    held their Anniversary conference this past weekend. Here is the
    Manifesto circulated at the conference. It was submitted to Hartke is
    Online! by their co-director, Sir Julian Rose.

    ICPPC Anniversary Conference Statement

    Manifesto for 21st Century Food and Farming
    “Farming for the People with the People”

    The global food economy, served and shaped via state and corporate
    control of the food chain, has resulted in unquantifiable levels of
    pollution, destruction and exploitation in every dimension of
    agriculture, from soil to seed, to plant, to animal and to man. In
    other words: our existence.

    As we approach the second decade of the 21st century, it is becoming
    abundantly clear that an entirely new vision, understanding and
    implementation is required in order for agriculture to truly serve its
    original purpose of feeding humanity (all peoples) with good quality,
    affordable and mostly local foods in ways that do not harm the
    environment.

    In order to make this wholesale shift it is necessary to entirely step
    aside from State and corporate control of the food chain. No
    compromise is possible here. Maintaining and re establishing the
    genuine independence of farmers throughout the world is a prerequisite
    for our survival as sentient, healthy human beings.

    Non participation in the corporately controlled global market place
    must, in order to be effective, be accompanied by the widespread
    implementation of localised, quality food production and consumption
    practices. Practices that bring into close proximity the food grower
    and the food consumer; at the same time – by-passing entirely, the
    corporate multiple chains that profit by keeping them separate. This
    is the only way that genuine accessibility of optimum condition foods
    and medicinal plants can be ensured for billions of people throughout
    the World.

    Continuing to adhere to the present corporate and state controlled
    food and farming regimes means that:

    Farmer’s time honoured right to save their seeds and to cultivate,
    distribute and trade the produce resulting from these seeds will
    continue to be subverted, curtailed and stolen.
    People’s right to perpetuate the biodiversity of locally adapted
    native plants, herbs and animals for culinary, medicinal and general
    environmental health will be denied.
    People’s rights to gain lawful access to unused or barren land for the
    purpose of growing food for their own consumption in ways that do not
    harm the environment will be blocked.
    People’s time honoured right to carry on the daily operations of good
    farming practice unhindered by state and corporate power structures,
    will be denied.

    It is the obligation of head’s of state to consult the people, in
    advance, about any new laws or alterations of the current law and any
    political questions concerning agriculture.

    “Farming for the People with the People” therefore calls for all
    farmers, growers and sympathetic citizens, to take back control over
    their destinies and to join together to free our agricultural
    practices from the corporate treadmill of destruction and despair to
    which they now are tied.

    At the same time, we call upon the Polish government, and all national
    governments, to act NOW on the demands of the vast majority of their
    citizens to:

    Ban all forms of genetic engineering in agriculture, horticulture,
    silviculture and fisheries.

    Withdraw all financial support for factory farming regimes that
    dehumanise agriculture and debase the animal kingdom.

    Prohibit, without exception, any and all patenting of plants, animals,
    their traits and genes, as well as patents on breeding methods.
    Thereby making it unlawful to attempt to exercise control over
    biodiversity.

    Every Country should have the right to protect its food sovereignty.

    We call for a people led and people owned renaissance of agriculture.
    One which will liberate the creativity and ingenuity of man and draw
    inspiration from the time honoured peasant and family farming
    practices that still form the foundation of self sufficient,
    sustainable and ecological agricultural production throughout the
    world.

    ICPPC Anniversary Statement, November 2010.

    Please feel free to use and adopt in your Country!

    Sir Julian Rose

    Sir Julian Rose is now co-director of the International Coalition to
    Protect the Polish Countryside, co-launching a highly successful
    Campaign for a GMO Free Poland, as well as, leading a high profile
    defense of native farmers, whom he holds-up as the true guardians of
    biodiversity and quality of food throughout the world. Julian
    contributed to BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today during 2007 with his
    monthly broadcast, ‘Letters from Poland,’ passionately highlighting
    the crisis from forcing corporate globalization into traditional
    farming communities.

    Sir Julian Rose was the Chair for Wise Traditions, UK, the first
    London conference of the Weston A. Price Foundation, to be held on
    March 21, 2010. For more details about this event, visit
    http://westonaprice.org/london.

    • Scott says:

      Allan- coincidentally, yesterday I was compiling some notes on a book I read last summer called “The No Asshole Rule”. There is an entire section in there about breaking down the power structure in corporations- and one of the best ways to do so is to follow B&J’s model. Costco uses the same model, which is the example that the book referred to (as does I think Men’s Warehouse).

      I’m all for local artisan farming mostly because I think the product is of higher quality. I think though that no matter how artisan and how local, a farmer who uses chemicals is part of the problem, not part of the solution. I’d rather purchase organic produce from a large farm like Cal Organic in CA than conventional produce, which destroys the environment, from a local “artisan” farmer. To me, the “gold standard” is organic/local- but organic trumps local by far.

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