Credo by Bob Barker

Spring 2013

There are two principles that we affirm as Unitarian Universalist Congregations that speak to me with special strength:
             We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
             We affirm justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

I believe that I should live my life in a way that influences those around me in a positive manner. Now, though I hope she will not give you any details, my wife could tell you of many times when I have failed miserably. And sometimes I have had to beg forgiveness for my failures, from those I love, and from myself.

I am a geologist. I spent my career working for many different corporate entities, some good, some not so good. Most have faded into obscurity. At times I enjoyed, and I use the word loosely, over a quarter of a million miles in airline seats in a year. My work took me from Kyrgyzstan to Australia to the South Pacific, but mainly I worked in North and South America. The country I came to love the most was Peru. In the inky blackness of the night in the high altiplano of Peru, if you care to pay attention, you can still feel the presence of the spirits of the Inca. Even in the poverty of remote Peru, there are still echoes of those spirits, and there is a beauty in the people that I fell in love with.

The Lima office reported to me, and as the El Jefe, the boss, I learned to be very careful about what I said. There could be surprising and unintended consequences. If I visited and the office manager had painted an office a brilliant purple, and was very proud of it, and if I said, not to disappoint her, “That’s very nice,” the next time I visited the entire office might be brilliant purple.

More seriously, there is one incident that I’d like to share with you. On one visit to Peru, when I arrived in Lima, the office manager and country manager quickly told me of a major problem. We’d hired a new, experienced geologist, César Bellido. Actually, we’d stolen him from a larger company where he had excellent health insurance. When he had a physical to be enrolled in our health insurance, he was refused, due to high blood pressure. In Peru there are rigid requirements for termination of employment, but for three months a new employee can be terminated with no compensation. With no health insurance, we couldn’t send César into the field to do his work. The question they asked me was obvious. Should we terminate César now, before the three month trial period was complete, and avoid required compensation?

The three of us sat in the office of the country manager, and we asked ourselves two more very simple questions. What should we do? And what exactly were the implications if we did what we should do? After a long discussion we made three decisions. First, the company would pay for César to work with the best cardiologist in Lima. Second, he would have up to six months to resolve his blood pressure issues. Third, the company would then insist that the health insurance company cover him.

Three of us climbed the stairs to César’s office. You can imagine what he was thinking, what he was expecting when he saw us. Then we told him of our proposal. Three months later César was covered by the company’s health insurance, in the field, and happily doing his job.

This was a simple thing to do. Three people sat in an office and decided to do the right thing, decided to treat someone with respect, with dignity, with compassion. It cost the company almost nothing. And the effect that action had on that office and all the employees in Peru was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen.

In our lives, in the world of business, everyone faces difficult decisions. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid hurting people. Sometimes we hurt people without even knowing it. But over and over, I’ve actually watched people I’ve worked with try to do the right thing for those around them. Sometimes it takes a battle, but often it takes only a little nudge to make it happen.

In that office in Peru, three people simply affirmed the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and affirmed justice, equity and compassion in human relations. I believe in those two principles more than anything else in my life. I’m still trying, and often failing, to live by those principles. I believe all of us should try to live our lives in a way that provides positive influences on those around us. In that moment in Peru, three people, working together, actually succeeded.