During times like these, editors turn to “tried and true” sayings to frame their opinion columns. One of these sayings is, “May you live in interesting times,” supposedly a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. The saying is used ironically, in that “interesting times” are times of trouble and difficulty.
The only problem with this saying is that it’s not real; no actual Chinese source has ever been found. Like the famous “George Washington chopped down the cherry tree” myth, the “Chinese curse” is a fabrication.
I guess that really is the moral for these times; it’s difficult to understand what’s true or not, and reality is like a kaleidoscope. Traditional sayings and our past experiences could not help us out when the COVID-19 pandemic was pushed out of the news by the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
What that means for readers of this magazine is that there are new challenges as the nation seeks to recover from COVID-19 and heal from the civil unrest. The nation’s manufacturers are a key part of the economy and a source of employment for millions. In the best scenario, they are anchors for the communities in which they operate.
We in manufacturing need to play a positive role in helping to bring our country back socially as well as economically. Consider this, from an extraordinary statement by the National Association of Manufacturers:
“There are too many among us who believe there are those who are ‘less than’ or not worthy of humanity, dignity and equal justice. To turn a blind eye to this blatant bigotry and to not do all we can to eradicate it, makes us less than human. It undermines all that America stands for. To be very clear, manufacturers in America do not condone violence or destruction of any kind. But we absolutely stand hand in hand with all those who seek respect, fairness and the right to equality of opportunity that America has promised for centuries and that, even now, has not been delivered to all her citizens.”
Well said. We still face many challenges. COVID-19 is still with us. After U.S. auto factories reopened, workers at all three Detroit-based automakers tested positive for COVID-19, and Ford temporarily closed plants again. This scenario will continue to play out at other plants. Manufacturers will have to take extensive measures to keep workers safe.
Over the longer term, manufacturers must reach out to employ a more diverse workforce. As Rob Tessier of Airgas said at a workforce panel at FABTECH 2019, “We have to open our minds. Stop judging people by their physical attributes. Stop looking at the fact that they might have orange hair. Don’t be afraid to speak to a woman. Don’t be afraid if somebody has a different thought process, or comes from a different place than you….We need to help people have a career.… We need to engage everyone, because everyone has something to offer.”
In other words, we can’t just say “We’re all in this together.” We have to do something about it.