Category: Do No Harm


“Excited?” Maria asked as she placed a slice of cake in front of me and sat to my left. “I mean, it’s here. It’s finally here.”  Then, leaning in, “It’s here.”

“Weird. It just feels weird,” I responded while typing ‘execution commands’ on my laptop. I momentarily glanced at the memo taped over the cake, candy, chips, assorted snacks, bottles of sparkling juice, party streamers, ribbons, and helium-filled balloons. 

“COVID Tiger Task Force Deactivation.” the internal memo broadcasted to staffers. The shutdown comes as the pandemic continues. The U.S. will eclipse 610,000 deaths by Summers’ end, while the global death toll currently exceeds 4.1 million. As we approach deactivation, the entire team was focused on ensuring a smooth transition of key members back to normal business operations. Yet, I am unsure what ‘normal’ was anymore.

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There’s a ton of historical NDE experiences, some dating back centuries. Their stories are similar to those told in hundreds of books or websites (including mine). Though details vary across, there are many commonalities, including floating upward, viewing the scene of their death; spending time in a different realm, meeting relatives, feeling God, or something like ‘complete love.’ Once all that occurs, the person is told to return to live another day. For many, the person reports the experience was not a dream but “authentic,” changes profoundly post-NDE, and has a hard time returning into everyday life. 

My recent experience is similar, but not totally. Here’s a recap.

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My body did not experience any significant trauma. There was no earthquake. No carjacking went wrong, nor was I violently assaulted. My condo unit did not collapse, and I was not involved in a car wreck. Neither did I neither fall down the stairs nor overdose. I did not experience a heart attack and didn’t see the ‘light’ during an operation. All I did was fall asleep in a recliner.

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I never fully understood why God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The story can be summarized as follows. God tests Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his firstborn son Isaac on Mt. Moriah. Abraham has absolute trust (faith), so he follows the command. A knife is drawn and placed to Isaac’s throat. At that moment, God sees Abraham’s faith and obedience are complete and sends an angel to stop the sacrifice. I cannot imagine the conversation Abraham had with his wife.

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A few hours before my physician’s appointment, I read Dr. Rebecca Elon’s story on the Kaiser Health News. Living in the age of COVID, she lost her husband, experienced the death of a sister, and watched her mother battle dementia. The geriatrician and policy expert made a striking comment. “Reading about caregiving of this kind was one thing. Experiencing it was entirely different.” Elon’s statement struck so deep that I took the time to not her comment. Thinking Elon’s quote was a worthy citation in a future blog post, I never imagined referencing hours later, just after my doctor’s appointment.

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Katie Cassidy revealed that her father’s (singer David Cassidy) last words were ‘so much wasted time.’ Cassidy’s last words have been on my mind for weeks, and none more present while I have been cleaning out my home. In Sweden, this type of decluttering called döstädning— meaning ‘death’ and städning meaning ‘cleaning. In the final preparation of my departure, I don’t want others to be spending hours clearing out unnecessary items. Therefore, I am unloading all I can while alive. As I sorted, I kept thinking, “Why? Why did I waste so much time collecting this stuff?

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I first heard Limbaugh in 1988 driving across America. His voice ricocheted across Iowa as if each corn stalk was were a unison of antennas uplifting far-right conservatism from the depths of a relatively unknown chasm. His voice gave marginalized Americans a voice. To some extent, his views paved the way for likes of Fox News, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump. I listened, not because I overtly professed his beliefs or even liked him, more so because I recognized that this form of vitriolic pseudo-hate would likely climb out from American farmlands to impact America. I wanted to understand, but never did. Limbaugh was uncomfortable. He called HIV/AIDs ‘Rock Hudson’s disease,’ asserted ‘environmentalist wackos’ were scientists organized for a political position, women lived longer than men because they had comfortable lives, being liberal was similar to being Nazi, claimed Barack Obama was not born in the US, and argued against the dangers of smoking.

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I texted a friend in Missouri, “Oh my God, new reports indicate a woman was shot and killed during the riots. This is insane.” A few minutes later, she responded that she wasn’t watching the ‘lamestream’ media coverage. Several more minutes passed and she texted Fox News reports the woman was ‘a peaceful demonstrator’ shot by ‘ANTIFA.’ (ANTIFA is a false allegation. CNN identified several notable figures in the crowd of rioters as conspiracy theorists linked to right-wing extremist movements, QAnon and the Proud Boys.)

During a 2016 campaign stop at Dordt College (Iowa), Trump stated, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.” I thought then, as I do now, the logic is insane. Members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet issued harsh rebukes of the mayhem at the U.S. Capitol, but stopped short of criticizing the president, who had urged his supporters to take action.

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As many know, I normally make no New Year’s resolution. Over the years, I learned that resolutions are ineffective and often go unbroken. Most resolutions never get past a week. One year I vowed to lose weight. “Don’t eat the ice cream,” my coworker pontificated at a meeting. “Where is it?” I countered. And there you go. Vowed to reduce pizza? Ate it. Declaring an abstinence from coffee found me four hours later laid out on the break room floor wheezing out between gasps to anyone listening that I couldn’t make it unless I received a caffeine fix. This year, I will try for a bolder resolution: walk like James.

To properly understand, you’ll require some context. When I started my current position, the job required a national security clearance. Over the course of several weeks, I carefully completed an SF-86, a one-hundred plus page Questionnaire for National Security Positions that details all previous employment, travel, criminal, financial, martial, personal background, all the times I used a restroom on foreign soil, and any other tales of woe I would to voluntarily disclose before government agents ask, “Hey dumbs**t. What about this incident in 40 years ago in a bookstore in Frog Jump, Tennessee?”

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In 1988, my employer called all the call center representatives into a conference and plopped down a binder full of known product problems. Each known product problem had an associated ‘mitigation’ step to assist the customer. Some included replacement, while others included replacement and compensation. Still, others included payment. Sounded great, until. Until what? Upon reading the fine print, we could only assist the customer if the customer complained. We could not broadcast any manufacturing problem, discuss any form of compensation, or any customer inquiry outside the office. That meant any customer experiencing a known product failure, but did not complain to the manufacturer, received nothing, no compensation, no mitigation. Those who suffered in silence were swept under the corporate rug.

The visceral and brutal nature of corporate sins often gets “cleaned up” by corporate and religious communities alike. Suffering is downplayed publicly, and individual elements, including any agonizing days our customers endured, were buried by silence and a tsunami of the indescribable pain. As a business, we failed to recognize our horror, the inexplicable level of pain inflicted, and the raw violence performed against our customers’ human psyche. Instead, we went to church, held hands, recited the Lord’s prayer, and asked God to forgive our debts just as we forgive our debtors. Yeah. Sure.

Thirty-five years later, God asked me, why was I so willing to sacrifice my ideals upon the throne of business? I am fascinated by God’s question and of the impossibility of inconsistent, rationalized ethics. What did this absolute obedience and faith of humankind offer that made it entirely permissible to sacrifice customers? By questioning my request for forgiveness, God asked a provocative question, “What good is thy faith?” 

Another angle by which to frame this is that God inquired about its aftermath. What did I accomplish? Through a series of acts, I trusted in the invisible plan of now-defunct and unmemorable business leadership. Had I shelved reason and ethics to become ‘employee of the month’ or ‘employee of the year?’ I understand that worse has occurred throughout history and that humanity has endured the wrenching horrors of current and past U.S. leadership. Just as Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, just as many business colleagues across the county, I sacrificed ethics to obligation.

Truthfully, I have no understanding of why management required such sacrifices thirty-years ago. I failed to ask, and my lack of ‘positional power’ was limited. On the other hand, God gazed into my soul — where I could not see — and knew my secret, even when I couldn’t see it myself. God affirmed I made myself a co-conspirator, either symbolically or with consent: I saw the facts, and I participated in the commitment to secrecy. If I was unwilling to pass judgment on management at the time, then the essential question is, how is my ethical code different today? Should ethics be relative to religious status and hierarchy, or to the extremity of one’s commitment to God? 

When does the end justify means? Where is ‘humanity’ in the reward? Should my profound humility somehow replace the patriarchy of God’s original call? More importantly, What does it mean to be God’s chosen? How do I live accordingly?

Like most of my life’s poor decisions, I will never rid of the most sacred ethical failures. I am blessed that forgiveness is offered via faith. Yet, this fact demands that I now follow spirituality and continually evaluate both faith and obligation. Indeed, my footsteps should not be traced, as my example should provide ample pause. 

If your first response would be to entertain the notion that I was a madman or criminal, or, more likely, that I was tragically deluded in some false image of God’s call, then what of those harmed? What if I misunderstood the will of God? What might have I lost in translation between divine intent and human implementation? 

Final Thought

During the COVID pandemic, we’ve heard politicians weigh the value of human life against economic and stock market viability. We openly discuss hitting the poor the hardest for the sake of chasing profits. Entertaining business without ethics means losing our humanity. We must serve a higher purpose: look after employees, support the community, and strive to make a product that inspires. 

God’s questioning taught that each human life is more significant than gross profit. Of course, a business balance sheet is essential, but human beings are created in the image of God. As such, we must reject suggestions to sacrifice ethical discernment. To do otherwise means human lives become nothing more than check marks on a to-do list rather than sacred. 

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