Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Perfect Storm

What would it be like if I was only known for the worst thing I've done?  - Catherine Hoke

I was just about to title this post The Perfect Rainbow, trying to come up with the opposite of The Perfect Storm, when thankfully I remembered some old wisdom about storms having the potential for being positively cleansing, as well as negatively destructive. 

And positive was the experience last summer when a total of three experiences came at me within just a few days, the sum more powerful than each, and it will stay with me for a very long time.

So let's just get down to it and talk about the difficult subject that's on my mind... the candidate that dare not speak it's name:  domestic candidates with criminal histories.

Ha! Delete, you say? Into the trash can with no further time to waste? Don't even think about sending in that resume? Well, I'd say for about 25 years, I certainly have fallen into that same camp. And frankly, I don't think there's another camp within the domestic staff industry. 

And even more frankly - I'd like you to think today about having the courage to challenge that.


On Governor's Island one Sunday this past summer, I happened upon by accident The Prison Art Coalition, artwork which is, you've probably already guessed, created by prisoners and sold to the general public by the coalition, who are, you guessed it, ex-cons themselves. 

After stepping up into the makeshift gallery within the crumbling remains of a WWII house for soldiers stationed on the Island and now providing summer weekend sanctuary for all sorts of artistic endeavors, I was gracefully welcomed at least three times as I walked through the rooms, never hurried, never felt uncomfortable, and always felt like something was going on there I'd never quite understood before.

Then the storm began, as I noticed the quote on the wall by Catherine Hoke, Founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, Inc.

"We're all ex-somethings. I wish we'd ask ourselves, 'What would it be like if I was only known for the worst thing I've done?'  Moved by empathy, we'd recognize people for who they are today and not for the mistakes they made yesterday."

I don't know about you, but I can think of something I've done in my life that, well, let's just say I'm not too proud of; and probably the only difference between myself and someone who will probably never get the chance to have an Estate Manager job is: they got caught.

Now, before anyone feels a need to act out an overly dramatic response to that admission - perhaps even with a few self- righteous tsk-tsks tossed in, I think that if 100% of everyone reading this post thinks carefully back into their past - you know, the one we all hope is so very well hidden - they will recall at least one occasion where something went just a little bit too far, or a little bit too off, and well, just thank goodness no one saw it, right? 

Yes, now you're remembering that time, a long time ago... that little thing that happened.

And, what if things had turned out not so lucky for you on that one late evening after a dinner out with friends, and you had been, indeed, caught? What if it was now you handing over artwork to the coalition on Governor's Island, instead of reading this post right now, on your coffee break, at your six-figure income domestic service position?


On to stormy event #2, just the next day while randomly browsing the political news from San Francisco, where I lived for many years and still like to keep up with it because that town is just so politically interesting, I read though the detailed report of the San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance, Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, whereby job applicants within the city now cannot be questioned about criminal history prior to an in-person meeting with their potential employer. 

This "fair chance" is really all such applicants ever asked for - to not be dismissed out of hand without having had a fair chance to make an impression on their own merits, not simply the prejudices of those who may not understand them, their past, or even more importantly, their future abilities to offer the employer what is really needed: applicable skills and coming from someone who knows they need to make it perfect this time.


But event #3 really got to me, and made the perfect, positive storm come so alive, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it or even sleep: Needing to move into a new apartment, I quickly perused the various Yelp reviews and yawned at just how similarly 5-star wonderful every company seemed to be, trying very hard to forget about the fact that many movers will offer a 25% discount to a reviewer on their next move if they'll simply post a 5-star positive review on Yelp, I see instead "Delancy" posted and recall that name from my days in San Francisco. Intrigued, I read further, and realized they have a moving service, comprised of the same ex-gang members, drug/alcohol abusers, and assorted others who've had scrapes with the law, all whom spend 2-4 years at Delancy House facilities getting their lives back into check, from a community of others in the same boat who are giving each other a helping hand to get into a productive lifestyle for both themselves and the communities around them. 

Sort of like how real, honest and caring communities do, yes?

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction in me, like for most of you reading this right now I can almost guarantee, is thinking, hey wait a minute now, these are movers who could've been arrested and sent to jail for larceny, burglary, drunk driving, as well as just about any other crime one could think of, so, well, I better play it safe and hire someone else.  

But then something else kicked in and I thought: who better trustworthy than people who have been given a second chance by someone and are making concerted efforts to turn their lives around? People who know they now have a chance to get it right - and must get it right this time?

And there I had the perfect storm, and I hope it will storm for you, too, and we start to at least begin questioning the reason why we are so quick in our domestic industry to auto-exclude people who we really haven't gotten a chance to know; people who we dismiss so readily (and even cheerfully) by throwing their resumes and applications on the floor; people who we hope we never have to even meet one day because, well they just might remind us of that one thing... know, that one thing in our own lives that no one ever found out about because there's no way anyone ever will, if we just keep quiet and act like even we don't remember it ever happened... right?


I'd like you to, if not have a storm today, at least let it rain a little bit inside your head and get your brain just a little bit wet. I'd like to paraphrase Ms. Hoke's quote to: What if we were only known by the worst thing we ever got caught for?

I'm not asking anyone to now confess to their employer or to their domestic staffing agents (and I'm willing to bet that 100% of all employers, and 100% of all domestic staffing agents fall into the same aforementioned category of being human and making a similar mistake at least once in their lives). No, I'm asking you to re-think, as a thought experiment, about what kind of domestic staff employee you would be today if you'd instead had gotten caught after that night out with your friends during that one certain evening and before getting home - and someone like the above group of people that helped me to move last summer still believed in your core goodness and gave you a second chance and believed in you - instead of automatically dismissing your entire existence and tossing your entire soul into the trash can like we in the domestic industry are always so ready to do.

What kind of domestic worker would you now be? Well, I'm betting that you'd be an unusually good one, probably even better than you are now. Because, now, you'd really have to be.

And even more so, because someone cared about you enough as a human being and really believed in you to look beyond the worst thing you are now known for.


Maybe a perfect storm every now and then is a good thing. Maybe those storms can help us to wash away some old ideas.

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