Fired. Such an ugly word, and yet, there it is. I have a long, less than distinguished track record of being “let go”, “dismissed”, “riffed” and the less familiar but just as demeaning “kicked upstairs”. Even in my long-ago dark days as a coach I was fired, more than once. I tell people my lifetime coaching record is 10-6, ten times hired and six times fired, including 4-4 at my current school which has to be some kind of record.
I recently returned from a stretch of time that found me gone for most of 3 weeks. Once I returned I found myself with numerous requests for letters of recommendation. Yesterday I wrote four letters for adults, including two staff members who are being “let go’, and those were the most difficult. What do you say for people who have been labeled in such a way?
In writing those two letters I had an epiphany and I hope I feel the shame of my sudden insight for the rest of my life because if I forget I am bound to repeat my mistakes, and that would be a very bad thing.
For three years these individuals have been colleagues at my place of work. I do more than my fair share of examining other people’s shortcomings and these two were no exception, but yesterday I realized I had never seen them as human beings. Individuals with hopes, dreams and desires. People with good traits, and habits that perhaps need some work. Instead of lighting a candle for the last three years, I have added to the darkness.
Human beings form communities, and workplaces are communities whether we acknowledge it or not, and we succeed and fail as community. I am my brother (and sister’s) keeper. If these people failed, I failed too. I failed to see their good points, I failed to try to help when I saw them going astray. I could say to myself “yes, but you aren’t their supervisors, and you didn’t make the decision” but that would be an even more shameful dodging of responsibility. I could have done more for these people. I would have done more, perhaps, if I had seen them as people, instead of as ‘staff members’.
Maybe before we dismiss anyone, literally or figuratively, we should have to write that person a letter of recommendation. I discovered many good traits in them that I hadn’t ever really considered, and I became ashamed when I realized how short I had fallen in my obligation to help my community. I failed two individuals in it, and not only they suffered, but the community is now suffering too. I am forced to wonder who else I am failing.
John Donne expressed it better than I ever will, and he did it a long time ago:
“For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”
I hear a bell tolling for me, and one of my communities this week, and I am ashamed.