Thursday, October 11

This item about Burger King employees walking on coals brought back memories.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, a bunch of Burger King workers had been taken to an employee-bonding session at a resort facility in Key Largo. One of the activities of the day was, believe it or not, firewalking. (Although, I can't help but see this as just a little bit appropriate, considering Burger King's "flame-broiled" burger boasting. Anyway.) Yes, the employees, guided by a professional (I want that on my resume!) had to walk over a bed of 1,200 degree coals. Some got burned.

Now, what you want to know is Why? What purpose was coal-walking supposed to serve? According to the article, it's empowerment. You know - you learn that you can walk over hot coals, so therefore you also learn that you really, really can sell your store's quota of fries this month.

Anyone working in any kind of institution over the past two or three decades has been subjected to this kind of nonsense. Sadly, even Catholic institutions haven't been spared. In fact, they're often among the first to jump on bandwagons of this sort - which says a lot about a) how poorly co-workers in Catholic institutions from parishes to schools to diocesan offices, really and truly get along and b) how little faith these same Catholic institutions have in the power of their own tradition to help out when and if things get a little rough around the chancery.

In the early '80's, when I started teaching in Catholic high schools, it was testing. First, the Meyers-Briggs, then the Enneagram a few years later - take the test, read up on your type, then do exercises or have discussions about how this gaggle of diverse personalities could get along. I'll never forget one of my colleagues assessing this process one afternoon after a faculty meeting: "Why do we need this crap to help us get along?" she wondered, "Isn't this what the Gospels are for?"

By the time I got to Florida, in the mid-90's, personality testing was on the wane as a means of workplace solidarity-building. Fortunately, there aren't any woods or mountains to haul a faculty to on one of their precious days off, but, as the Burger King story shows, desperate administrators will find a way.

Our way was via a ropes course - originally built to help "at risk" kids develop team-building skills, yada, yada, yada - its reach was being extended to local businesses, and of course, the Catholics were first in line.

It was really awful. If you don't know what happens at a ropes course, count your blessings. It's all about your group having to work together to work out solutions to ridiculous problems: "Figure out how to get Mrs. Giddleplunk from this platform to the top of that pillar sixty feet away, using only this box of toothpicks and a bunch of celery. No hands!"

With only a couple of exceptions, we all deeply wished we'd just been allowed to stay at school and grade papers.


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