Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, December 24, 2022

Manger and manager -- a study in contrasts

Sunday December 18, 2022


There’s something about a season of peace and goodwill, a season marked by glad tidings of comfort and joy, that throws into stark contrast the operating systems we take for granted all the rest of the year.

            I imagine that’s what prompted Eli Sopow of University Canada West to write an article for The Conversation Canada on Elon Musk.

            I don’t know what you think of Musk most of the year. Envy of his wealth -- even if he’s no longer the world’s richest person? Admiration for his achievements, such as Tesla and SpaceX? Loathing? Disgust?

            Whatever your feeling, I’m sure it didn’t involve comparisons with Santa Claus.


Mental mismatch

            Imagine Christmas Eve. The stockings have been hung by the chimney with care. And up above the rooftops rises a bright red Tesla, soaring into orbit with a trunkful of toys and goodies for eager boys and girls.

            Hardly likely, is it?

            Elon Musk resembles a holly jolly Santa about as much as Vladimir Putin resembles Winnie the Pooh.

            Eli Sopow’s recent article analyzed Musk’s management strategies. “Musk’s cold, impersonal approach to management and leadership is antithetical to what we have learned about kinder, more humanistic approaches to work,” Sopow wrote.

            Sopow focussed specifically on Musk’s most recent moves in acquiring Twitter. “Since taking over the company, Musk has made a number of changes to the platform, resulting in widespread chaos and turmoil within the company.

            “Musk fired top executives and half of the company’s 7,500 employees, ignored advice [against] firing employees representing diversity and inclusion, and has likely violated employment labour laws and breached employee contracts.

            “In November, Musk sent an email to remaining workers with an ultimatum: commit to being ‘extremely hardcore’ or leave the company.”

            “None of this is new for Musk,” Sopow concluded. “He already had a history of dismissing executives on a whim and committing mass layoffs at Tesla.”

            Sopow is clearly not unbiassed.


The machine model

            Let’s give Musk the credit he’s due. He did, almost single-handedly, launch the American electric car industry.

            But despite his technological achievements, he’s a throwback.

            Sopow traces the principles of Musk’s management practice approach to an American engineer named Frederick Taylor (who is not, I hope, a relative).

            In a 1910 essay The Principles of Scientific Management, Taylor wrote, “In the past man has been first. In the future the system must be first.”

            Read that line again. Employees, says Taylor, are expendable. They have only one purpose -- to make the system run efficiently.

            Taylor goes on, in the male-gendered language of his time: “We do not ask for the initiative of our men. We do not want any initiative… We want them to do what we say, and do it quick.”

            Twitter, to a T.

            And no doubt dozens, hundreds, thousands of other companies who have bought into the same lie.

            Eli Sopow writes, “Musk’s cold, impersonal approach to management and leadership is antithetical to what we have learned about kinder, more humanistic approaches to work…[It] treats employees like cogs in a machine, rather than human beings. It… sacrifices employee well-being for the sake of profit.”

            “As it turns out, workers are indeed emotional, sentient beings with minds of their own. They are better at their jobs when they are treated as such.”


Different tactics

            Particularly at this time of the year, Musk’s philosophy stands out as an anachronism, starkly silhouetted against the season’s colours of kindness and compassion, of sacrifice for the sake of others, of love and generosity.

            And since the focus of the season is on the child who was born in a stable and laid in a manger, I wonder how management strategists would define Jesus’ management style?

            He summarized his own credentials to John the Baptist, languishing in King Herod’s dungeons: “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

            Definitely not Elon Musk.

            Jesus refused to be single-minded. He allowed himself to be distracted by a woman considered a social pariah; by a dying girl; by a dead friend.

            He preached friendship –wherever two or three are gathered -- which builds bonds and creates a kin-dom.

            Most of all, he repeatedly refused to be elevated to any position of power and leadership.

            Every aspect of his life repudiates Musk’s machine model.

            Perhaps only at a few rare times of the year are we able to perceive the striking contrasts between Jesus’ operating values and those of, say, Elon Musk.


Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Your turn


Some interesting replies to the column two weeks ago (no column last week, because I was sick) about the number of contemporary Christmas songs written by non-Christians. 

            Cliff Boldt for example, wrote, “I’m with you.  I do not like secular Christmas music, even White Christmas.” 

            Conversely, Michael Jensen: “I realize that controversy finds readers, including me. However, singing our favourite songs at Christmas needn't be either exclusively sacred or secular. I recently attended a Christmas social of a diverse group of writers. We sang both Silent Night and Rudolf. Now that you have enlightened me about non-Christian songwriters, it does not change that I enjoy singing White Christmas.”


Richard Best pointed out that “Mary, Did You Know -- a significant form of ‘mansplaining’ -- was written by a Gaither acolyte.  Doesn't that make all the difference in the world?”


Bob Warrick wrote from flood-plagued Australia: “Today’s column on Christmas Music was especially interesting as I have just had foisted onto me an anthem in a a service - it was a completely secular song and Nola’s response as she prepares the PowerPoint is to not use the word anthem but just put in the title of the piece.

            “We are finding that those whose main ‘thing’ is music -- organ and choir -- have completely different ideas of what worship is.  So when a service has to be shortened for some reason, the immediate response is to delete the sermon -- without any consultation or even conversation!”


David Gilchrist: “I am surprised that the Catholic Church (or any other) would want to ban O Holy Night, with the first verse declaring: ‘It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth’.”

            JT: A couple of other readers questioned that reference. I wasn’t there, so I can only go by the research sources available to me, such as Wikipedia and its kin.


Fran Ota: “Technically a Carol is a festive song, most often religious though not necessarily connected to church. And there are those few which are carols but not religious. Don’t forget a lot of what we now call religious music used to be bar songs. Bach and Beethoven leap to mind. 

            “For me as a musician and minister….religious and secular are often divided too much. The people in our pews are secular people, not religious. We are not a religious order. We are to be a ‘people of the world’. And if kids like singing Rudolph, and Santa Claus is Coming….. listen again to the words. Rudolph was shunned and excluded for being different. Santa looks at children’s and people’s hearts. Pretty solid messages which are consistent with the teachings of Jesus.”


Isabel Gibson remembered, “In Calgary I worked with a Hindu whose family looked forward to celebrating Christmas -- singing the songs, putting up the tree, exchanging gifts. Who can't get behind that?

            “As I get older, I find that many of the secular accoutrements of Christmas fall away, leaving only the reason itself -- the coming of hope and light into a world that sorely needs it.”


Steve Roney: “You are wrong to suppose that the first non-religious Christmas songs showed up in the 1940s. I can easily come up with a list of earlier ones:

Deck the Halls

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Jingle Bells

Here We Come a Wassailing

Christmas has always been a celebration of winter and the solstice as well as of the birth of Christ. It has always had its secular side of general merriment and misrule.

            “You are also wrong to suggest that modern secular Christmas songs were all written by Jews. (JT: Steve was not alone in assuming I had attributed ALL secular Christmas songs to Jews. I didn’t say that.) Accordingly, Jewish songwriters did not ‘re-invent’ Christmas. They were fitting right in with an established tradition.”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

            Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



            The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns




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