Beneath Me

I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
I crushed them so that they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.
You armed me with strength for battle;
you humbled my adversaries before me.
You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
and I destroyed my foes.
They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
to the Lord, but he did not answer.
I beat them as fine as windblown dust;
I trampled them like mud in the streets.
You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
you have made me the head of nations.
People I did not know now serve me,
foreigners cower before me;
as soon as they hear of me, they obey me.
They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.

–          Psalm 18:37-45

 

 

My last full-time permanent job was with an equipment supplier, engineering company, that provided industrial furnaces to the steel industry, worldwide.  I was always the tail wagging the dog – so to speak.  When the work was about done, I would teach the customer how to utilize the equipment in the proper manner.  In many ways, it would be the only way to achieve the production guarantees that the company’s final payment depended upon.

 

In thinking back over those years, the people that I met get jumbled up.  So, I would like to take the jumble and write about two of those jumbled customers.  If this fictional story sounds like one person that you know, you are probably wrong.  They are both blends of a lot of people.

 

I met Ted from a mid-west steel mill the day before the training was scheduled.  I had assembled our working furnace inside the classroom, but I wanted a tour of the furnace.  Ted had given me a contract to develop training for a furnace that our company did not build, something that our salesmen and I tried to sell to fill up my spare time.

 

As we walked around this strange furnace, I took pictures that I would work into the wee hours incorporating into my presentations.  Ted felt he needed to explain his role.  He said, “I am working as a project manager.  My work is highly technical.  You wouldn’t understand.  I just set up this training course because the mill manager heard your presentation at a technical conference last year.  I will attend, but really…  This entire thing, the project management, this little furnace training job, and working at the mill are beneath me.  The mill manager is influential.  I will parlay his influence into moving to a corporate level job within six months or this company can kiss me good-bye.  But if they play ball, I’ll have the mill manager working for me within two years.”

 

In trying to find out more about Ted, I learned that Ted had graduated with a BS degree in engineering a year and a half prior to us meeting.  He had only been working at the company for three months.  The year plus job search after graduation was due to his parent’s influential friends giving false information about this high-level job that was being groomed for him.  When that fell through, he had job offers, but they were worse than this one.  All his job offers, including the one he accepted, were beneath him.

 

His project manager job had about the same responsibilities than the project managers at our company, but our project managers had twenty years of experience before moving into such a job.

 

As for me not understanding his technical projects, I had been managing more highly technical projects than he was working on before he was born, and I could trump his BS with a master’s.  I said nothing.  I knew to play nice with the customer.

 

Ted introduced me to Larry, the steel mill’s training manager.  Larry said that he would be attending the class.  He knew nothing about steel making.  He was excited to attend.  But he wanted to ask me a big favor.  Could I prepare a written exam?  He wanted to ensure that everyone understood the essential things that were needed to run the furnace in manual operation, if the automation system did not respond properly.  I smiled and said that I would be glad to do that.  I thought to myself, “The photos will take until midnight.  Writing the exam will take three hours, six hours if I want to be diabolical.  Should I see if this is all ‘beneath’ Ted?  No.  Play nice.  Three hours on the exam.  Two hours to sleep.  Then get donuts and drive to the plant.  An industrial instructor should always get there before the first trainee does – with donuts.”

 

My assistant, who had more experience than Ted, handled the demonstration furnace operations with ease.  He discussed a few technical things with the class that were his specialty, but I taught the rest.  The class lasted almost two days.  After a thorough review, giving everyone the information that they needed to pass the exam– for the third time, if not more often, I handed out the examination.  The first to finish was Larry, the training manager that knew training, but knew nothing about steel mills.  He made a perfect score.  All the operators passed the course, some barely.  A couple of the mill guys that might help on occasion were just the there for donuts and overtime pay.  They failed.  Oh, you wondered how Ted did?  He got the worst grade in the class.  Since it was Larry’s idea to have the exam, I let Larry explain to Ted that he did not pass and what the correct answers were – and why.  I packed up and left before Larry had a chance to do that.  Yes, this job was beneath Ted.

 

Now let’s meet Ajoy.  When I met Ajoy, I had been in India for only a day.  I was not used to the heat or the change in time zones.  It was daylight savings time, so India was nine and a half hours ahead.  Ajoy introduced me to his manager and his manager’s general manager and the general manager’s boss, the plant manager.  All four gave a gentle bow.  While the caste system had been abolished, there were many courtesies that remained.  I was the ‘teacher.’  While some people would get swelling of the cranium over such a courtesy, I was humbled.  It meant that I had to be better at my job.  I could not fail them.

 

I arrived thinking that the training would last for about five days, if I spent the afternoons walking around their equipment and pointing out things that we had discussed that morning.  The commissioning of their furnace had not been completed yet, so we had the benefit of taking things apart, if necessary, to look inside.  My mind was racing, thinking about how to fill the spare time.  I had about three tours planned, the other days would be based on questions raised during the classroom time.  I was scheduled to return to the USA after ten days in country.

 

Class size is set for no more than 24 people for optimal group dynamics.  Ajoy took me to the class the first day and introduced me to 45 people.  The room was designed for about thirty.  A few stood for the ten-hour days in the back and others sat in the open windows, blocking the breeze.  It became very warm in the room.  What went through my mind was that my experience said that a class this large led to everyone falling asleep, not making eye contact, and not learning anything.  Only one problem with my experience.  I had not been in India.

 

I started out speaking slower than usual, not knowing how good their English was, besides I needed to stretch the class a little.  (Thank heaven they all spoke English.  It usually took me a couple of hours to establish a rhythm when working with a new translator.)  I soon sped up my speech pattern and eliminated going to the furnace area for the first two days.  We started off behind.  Ajoy had primed each of the 45 people to ask everything that had ever entered their minds associated with the topic of the course.  For seven full ten-hour work days, I taught what would take two days in the USA.  Why?  They were totally engaged.  “The ‘teacher’ has arrived from America to answer all our questions.”  I barely had enough time to walk them around the furnace area to show them what they had been discussing in the classroom, but other than the day that I went through the start-up procedure, they explained everything that they had learned they walked, all 45 of them.

 

I had no donut shop to buy treats for the class.  Yet, they served me during the morning tea and the afternoon tea.  I tried to let them know that I could stand in line and get my tea and biscuits (cookies) myself, but they wanted to show their appreciation for me being there.

 

During the breaks and at an appreciation dinner (I tried to pay, but I was not allowed.), I got to know Ajoy.  He lived in the big city, about two-hours by bus away from the plant.  He hoped that if he worked another ten years and got a promotion or two, he might be able to buy a car.  He, like me, had a master’s degree in engineering.  But this was a wild dream.  His boss’ boss had just bought his first car the year before.  His two children stayed up late so that Ajoy could help them with their homework once he had walked from the bus stop.  It was all good.  He slept on the bus.  (I had seen the buses.  Ajoy was probably one of the men standing, packed in like sardines, but if you are completely exhausted, sleep will come, even while standing.)  Odd, he was wide-eyed all day, asking the most probing questions of all, which made it a competition among 10-12 of his friends to have even more difficult questions.  Some of the questions required me to run calculations on my computer and answer the questions later in the class.  It was a good thing that I could run the calculations in automatic while teaching.  They got their money’s worth.

 

And to think, my company charged Ajoy’s company about 2 times his monthly salary for each day that I was there, plus three days of travel time.  Note:  Most of that went to company overhead and profit, but the disparity in salary was staggering.  In knowing this, there was no chance at all that I would leave without answering all their questions.

 

My company had a lot of engineers who did not really like the customers, regardless of where in the world the job was.  They had their mind set on making sure the equipment worked and getting home as soon as possible.  They never spent time answering customer questions.  The customer was beneath them.  That’s why they hired me, and that’s why many of my fellow engineers felt I was beneath them.

 

It is an old concept of placing your ‘enemy,’ or the person who you feel is less worthy than you, beneath you.  Notice in the Psalm of David above, a victory song, that his enemies fell at his feet.  He humbled them.  He destroyed them.  He trampled them like mud in the streets.

 

Have you ever had to scrape the mud from your shoes?  Do I need to know how you felt about that mud?  Have you ever done a job that you thought was beneath you?  Have you had people working for you who you thought were beneath you?  Have you ever thought of how much you got paid compared to someone else and felt they were beneath you due to their poor pay?  After all, if they had any pride at all, they’d get a better paying job.

 

For God so loved the world…

 

Not the rich, not the educated, not those with influence, not the people who have better paying jobs.  Yet, I would give Ted better odds of succeeding at realizing his dreams than Ajoy.  But when it comes to friends for life, Ajoy is one for whom I feel blessed in having met.

 

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

 

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