15 February 2022

A time to every purpose under the heaven

I. A time to be born and a time to die

Adam was born of goodly parents who loved him.

Adam followed the rules. He was kind to others. He gave service selflessly. He served a mission to spread the gospel to all the world; to bring them his love and kindness; to bring them a hope for an eternal future together in an eternal loving family. He had limited success, and wondered if he was even supposed to be there, but had faith he was doing what the Lord had asked of him and returned home honorably.

Adam didn't date men. Of course not, you're supposed to date women. So Adam dated women, and he even got married to one who later made him feel unclean. But life is long. Until it isn't.

Adam died alone, by his own hand.

II. A time to break down and a time to build up

In Delivered from Evil, Robert Leckie makes the case that the Japanese forces in the Pacific during World War II had a problem with information flow. As America advanced and defeated out Japanese forces, the concept of saving face (メンツを保つ, mentsu wo tamotsu) made it difficult for the Japanese military to report bad news up the chain of command. So rather than report that many of their own ships were lost, they might report that few were lost. Rather than report that few enemy ships sunk, they might report that many sunk. 

This caused Japanese military leaders to make strategic and tactical decisions based on incorrect information, which lead to further losses, which were also downplayed. This wasn't the only reason Japan ultimately surrendered, but it didn't help.

In building up Japanese industry after the 2nd World War, this reluctance to report problems up the chain of command continued to cause problems. Taiichi Ohno recognized that to overcome it, he needed to implement explicit principles and processes to make it possible for people who see the problems to be empowered and willing to share them with those who have the authority to change them. The least among us in pay and title are sometimes positioned to notice things that managers aren't.

The remedy is two-fold:

  1. Get the decision-makers down to the actual place where value is created (現地現物 genchi genbutsu, or 現場, gemba). 
  2. Explicitly set aside time to improve, and involve and empower low-level workers to make changes. "Wisdom is given equally to everybody. The point is whether one can exercise it."

This remedy is part of what has become called lean manufacturing, which has spread widely, with many methodologies, terminologies, and pathologies. I've personally spent time embedded for months in a couple of companies, and I've found that sometimes the form remains, but not the meaning. The customers want to see lean initiatives and continuous improvement, so the company implements rituals to show the customer that they're a lean company. But they don't actually give their employees the time to do it right. At Kaizen Blitz events, employees are expected to spend most of their day doing additional work to overhaul the process, but then they're still expected to hit production targets. Employees understandably spend as little time on improving things as they can get away with so they can make shipments. In the name of the god of elimination of waste, no slack is allowed for the continual improvement process itself. They are ever learning, but "never able to come to the knowledge of truth."

III. A time to weep; a time to mourn

In 2006 a man from Elda dies from an overdose. 

A few days earlier he receives a blessing from a missionary while in the hospital intensive care, but to no avail.

Many years earlier he grows up in a town with a shoemaking industry that is mostly killed by an influx of cheaper imported shoes. The shoemakers (zapateros) leave the closing factories to begin making shoes on a piece rate in their poorly-ventilated houses, and suffer headaches from the glue fumes. Many turn to drugs to cope with the headaches and the poverty. People shoot up in broad daylight at bus stops.

At the wake and funeral, there is much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. As they slide the coffin into a wall, a mother yells out, "¡Ya está! ¡No hay más! ¡No hay más!" That's it, there's no more, there's no more. 

The Americans present feel uncomfortable. They find such raw expression of emotion during a time of mourning unfamiliar and strange. They joke about it afterwards ("¡No hay más!"), and then feel gross for joking about it.

Imagine the funeral is over and people are still sad? How sad it must be to think your child's death was really the end! They share testimonies about how grateful they are for the comforting truths of the gospel, and about the different experiences they had at their own relatives' funerals. Sure they didn't lose a child, but their grandpa died, and the funeral was ultimately hopeful. Same with their uncle.

Even in death, they pretend everything is fine.

IV. A time to kill and a time to heal

The missionary regrets... too many things. 

The missionary regrets not healing the man from Elda. He really wanted to, but when the time came he blessed him with peace instead. Maybe if the missionary had more faith, or not been so depressed, the man would have been healed. Maybe his failure killed the man from Elda.

The missionary regrets how long he spent in Spain being depressed. The man from Elda dying didn't help. But I guess the man from Elda didn't mean it personally.

The missionary regrets not pushing back harder at other missionaries who chastised him for wasting time on non-productive conversations. Why waste time asking about soccer? Why talk about break-dancing? Why ask about the town's history? Sure, limited small talk to help build relationships of trust is fine, but if you don't bring the conversation around to the gospel, what are you even doing? How can you justify spending time mourning with those that mourn if you don't try to convert that outward expression of empathy into baptisms? What better time is there to reach out from behind your shining example of charity to pull others into your beautiful whited sepulcher

The missionary regrets that his missionary journals burned up in a fire 12 years ago and now the missionary doesn't even remember the man from Elda's name.

But the missionary needs to learn how to let some of this stuff go. He'd prefer not to end up like Adam. Most days, at least. 

Maybe he should pretend harder.

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