"Tenderness is the love that comes close and becomes real"
I read an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently that perfectly reflects the problem with America today. The story was about how American Airlines registered more than a quarter million dollars in profits during the first three months of this year and wanted to spend some of the excess funds to provide raises for pilots and flight attendants who – according to the article – are paid below the industry standard. The problem, as I see it, isn’t with the company wanting to convert profits into pay raises for employees. The problem is with how Wall Street savaged American Airlines for doing so. Read this quote on the matter from a Wall Street analysts and perhaps you will see what I mean. “This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first … again. Shareholders get leftovers.”
I find it disheartening that Wall Street could not see this as a situation that would benefit both American Airlines and USA workers in general over the long term. Perhaps the best quote in the article came from John Cotton, a professor at Marquette University. Cotton said, “As far as Wall Street is concerned, if you could pay minimum wage to everybody on every job, that would be great because that would leave more money for stockholders.”
There you have it. Real wages haven’t budged for most workers in 40 years according to one Pew Research Center report. And, while wages for employees have stagnated, corporate profits have soared as illustrated in a 2014 Harvard Business Review essay entitled Profits without Prosperity.
I’m sure this isn’t a surprise for most. After all, many pundits pointed to these economic dynamics as a prime component that propelled Donald Trump into the White House. This isn’t about just pointing fingers, I’d like to offer some solutions as well. Pope Francis in a recent Ted Talk may have provided some direction for us.
In his brief address, Pope Francis lays out three actions we can take to build a future that includes everyone. First, he encourages us to recognize that we are all connected; not only to each other but also to the planet. For example, a society can’t suppress wages for nearly two generations and expect to thrive. Or we can’t enact laws and policies that benefit the few and the wealthy and not experience a political backlash. Finally, we can’t ignore the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and pretend that there are no consequences.
From this connectedness naturally flows a sense of solidarity, the Pope explains. Solidarity means that we answer “yes” to the question: “am I my brother’s/sister’s keeper?” It requires us to focus more of our efforts on taking care of others and focus less of our energy on amassing personal wealth, possessions and power.
Finally, the Pope calls us to a new revolution; a revolution of tenderness. Tenderness, says the Pope, “is the love that comes close and becomes real.” I wonder what would the world look like if we truly experienced a revolution of tenderness. I suspect we would not be arguing about whether the provision of health care is a basic need and a right for all. I also suspect we might be discussing how to welcome our neighbors with open arms and how we can prosper together, rather than building a wall to keep them out. I think we would finally recognize that the information and robotic economy of the future will require us to rethink how we support one another through wage subsidies, health care, child care, retirement benefits and the like.
If a revolution of tenderness is where we want to be, then how do we get there? A revolution, like every other important endeavor, starts with a radical small step. Perhaps the radical small step is this: I will treat everyone I meet today with tenderness. And then, I will treat everyone I meet next week with tenderness. Finally, I will use tenderness as the filter for all that I think and do for myself and for others.
I believe we could use a large dose of tenderness about now. Perhaps it’s time for a revolution.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.