My friends called me naive. They always do. At the closed-door meeting yesterday I stressed the need for our workers, our associates to commit to stronger values, higher standards. Things like integrity, dignity. Honesty. Saying what you mean. Personal responsibility. That things needed to be more transparent, and that we have to think about what we are doing, and why. I was at the end of my wits with running around in circles, and having to work early morning to near midnight.

But it is transparent,” one of them tried to convince me, placating my doubts, “it’s not that we won’t let you see the accounting, we read it aloud on the meetings. And you can see the revenue part.” Bull, I wanted to call it out. I remained unconvinced, firstly because having weekly rap of the accounting is not the same as deliberately analyzing it on paper, and definitely not the same as charting trends over weeks and months. I had wanted to chart discrepancies. The answer, was a firm no. “Focus on the work we tell you to do.

This was not the only issue I had about working. I was told in confidence that most of the internal decision-makers in my workplace—indeed this extends to most Mayans here—could all be in agreement about the right thing to do, but if the boss demands something against their core ethics, and even against their personal interests or tastes, they change their stance. At times it is stupid, in our case the fear to go against the grain is as silly as the choice of color for a poster. Other times, it has caused an abusive and questionable situation in which something bad happens (stealing, for instance) and the blame gets passed around to a scape goat. I know, I’ve been scape goated a few times.

I don’t think I’m at liberty to share the details, at least not yet until this is resolved with some transparent organization and reframing. But suffice it to say that with the way that Mayan-Mexicans, it leaves clients and donors rightfully suspect that they’re being price-gouged, that promises aren’t delivered, and intended donations are not going where they belong. This, in turn, has generated considerable damage in public relations and negative publicity, a breach in trust with the clientele that takes a lot of effort and time to repair. I can sympathize why the more professional operations in Cancún and Playa Carmen hire only foreigners as employees. When it comes down to it, you are fighting with a ghost and it’s complicated.

Apparently one colleague confessed that most of our associates do things against their will, because first, they shift blame to their superior:Well I was told to do this… and sometimes if I think about it, I really don’t want to, but I’m barely making enough salary, and I don’t want to be fired. That’s how it is, if you don’t go along with it you get fired. So I just do the dirty deed. Now that we’re discussing this, many many shady things happen that I am ashamed of.

(Hands are washed clean by having submissive Mayans do the worst deeds and the shift the acting-role back onto them, or denying s/he ever mentioned such an order. Second, they justify it by not thinking about it too much. Automaton mind set. “I’m just an employee, I’m just here from the hours they say. It doesn’t matter, I didn’t care about it anyway.” I wanted to be upset about this, I wanted to believe I was not the exception in being conscientious of what I do, but according to a Stanford Prison Experiment by Stanley Milgram, this was typical human behavior. Even more prevalent in Mayan regions, making exploitation extremely easy… they almost readily sign up for it.

This had been on my mind for weeks, the subtle self-defeating actions, the underlying irrational fear that seemed to subconsciously arrest their thoughts and actions, the sheer inefficacy in which we administered the organization, but I couldn’t exactly piece the puzzle together. It wasn’t dependency, but rather, such a distaste for interpersonal conflict and disharmony that they would rather go along with something they know is against their interests.

Admittedly, it was hard to swallow. I always prefer to believe that all human races had the same potential, everyone had some intellectual capacity that perhaps was repressed or didn’t have opportunity, and thus I was going to create that dialogue, that environment that could allow them to flourish on their own. This absolute counter-productive attitude has got be a stage that defeated peoples go through. I mean other countries had been broken and poor and transformed themselves right?

But Victoria, you see the Argentines, the Chinese, the Italians, they were poor for terrible period in their history. But the people didn’t lose their ambition, their intelligence, their intact knowledge of doing things. Cubans are poor, but they’re far more curious, motivated, professional. They don’t screw up so much.

The Mayans on the other hand have undergone half a millennium of being defeated, repressed, and enslaved, in addition to being susceptible to being dominated in the first place. If not the Spanish, inevitably another. I don’t want to be racist, but without any need of education or doing things for themselves since the submission of their grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents, genetically Mayans not the same great civilization they once were. It’s not the same, poor people here are docile and we’re trying hard to give them a spine, give them a voice, but they just go back to wanting to be the victim, we’ve bred a generation of losers. Genetically, they may not be on par with other peoples.”

How politically incorrect and bitter to hear that dose of perspective. But based on what I had seen… I’m not saying she’s right, but my friend did have a point.

So was everything I said to my Mayan colleagues in vain? Could you not teach people to consider, to translate their dormant values into everyday action? Was I really asking too much that people take a stand for what they believed was right, to put themselves to higher standards for the whole organization. I remembered the times I stood up for people, maybe I was in the minority afterall. It was a dizzying three hours.

“Just because they hear what you say doesn’t mean it translates into their daily action. They’re not you, Victoria. It’s what they’ve raised with… Yo’ve grown up with a stronger sense of justice, sacrificing for others, of discipline and achieving goals. These people aren’t like that, they’re…I hate to say this… simple. And selfish. And you can’t teach adults who haven’t had excellent role models to begin with. Most of these people shouldn’t be parents, and they’ve got seven kids.

My friend tried to reason. We are in a region where it is acceptable to tell fuzzy truths, who prefer to sugar-coat things and shamble their way out of accountability, of all the Mexican companies she had worked in, it was more common to pretend that everything was going well.

Obviously generalizing, but so true too…Leadership then, in Southern Mexico and perhaps in all Mayan regions, might require a good shepherd to inculcate good habits, daily actions that do not require people to consider or prioritize their lives. Because, really, it is about building a wider base of positive attributes.

Empowering marginalized people is far easier said than done, particually if they have it in their heads that they’re helpless victims of a corrupt system, and especially since it’s hard to see the difference. Often, there’s vested interested in keeping them that way. Status quo. In your daily interactions, not only does it require extra effort in empathizing and humility thinking about the well being of someone poorer… it requires a remarkable resilience that you, (without any hope of direct benefit,) distinguish yourself by encouraging everyone see the big picture, helping everyone operate for the benefit of the whole operation, build that critical trust in several relationships in which can be destroyed in minutes by people who’re spiteful. Passion is difficult to instill under circumstances of people who just don’t care that much anymore. Now try to persuade them in an acquired language. You have to have an exceptional and authentic concern for people (who might not help you when you need their support) and also inspire them to do better. It’s been really hard to get them to not be mediocre, it’s hard for people to want to excel.

From all of these barriers, build a sustainable operation in which the profits benefit their families, the skills are transferrable… in an environment that is rapidly and harshly capitalist. It is easier working with the younger generation.

In my case, I don’t believe I am getting the experience I signed up for. It’s got so many disappointments, frustrations and appreciation is not a strong-point at Taller Leñateros. But speaking from the bottom of my heart, I got a tremendous privilege that I could not have anticipated, in which I will elaborate in another post. I am quickly becoming experienced in navigating organizational crises. But this morning, the glimmer of something positive.

I really thought about what you said, and last night I had a conversation until about 1:30am about this, with someone who had worked here before. We’re going to get someone on the team who can complement our weaknesses. Thank you for your candor, let’s move forward and change the way this works. We want you to stay.”

Recognitition. Initiative. The first sign of hope.

This morning, the rising fog and the sunlight was so beautiful, everything melted into the wisdom of the moment. I envied the heroic glory of the city, at the first glimpse of dawn.

—-

Spanish Words of the Day:alero” eaves | “maceta” flowerpot | “garrobo” iguana | “abatir” to bring down, to get down, “abatirse” to get depressed | “rejuvenecer” rejuvenate | “residuos” residue | “regazo” lap | “telaraña” spiderweb

“Ever since the house burned down I could see the moon more clearly”

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