One Voice: Emily Muschinske

One Voice: Emily Muschinske

To close up, contract, withdraw from people you share so much of your life with seems like a bit of a death.

Emily Muschinske
South Orange, NJ
United States

Four years ago I was hired by a children's book publisher in New York City. The company is a household name. This was my second job designing and illustrating children's books. At both jobs, during healthy economic times, the staff were encouraged to see the company as one big family. I was always skeptical of this application of the word "family" to a group of people brought together somewhat randomly by a corporation. I mean I'm not naive: there's a fiscal benefit to convincing your employees to work for the company as if they were working for their own flesh and blood. But I fought my cynicism thinking, "I see these people every day. I want to nurture, love, and grow with them as if they were family. Wouldn't our lives be better if everyone gave themselves over to this? If we took time out to share and listen to and be kind to people at work as if they were indeed family?" My resistance was somewhat justified. While I was at my first publishing job, terrorists knocked down the twin towers. Following 9/11 my company brought in therapists to help us cope. Then in the subsequent economic downturn, executed a major downsizing sending a mixed message: it became abundantly clear that the fiscal health of the company always takes priority over the well being of the socalled family. Miraculously, I was spared. But I watched, with much discomfort, as the most senior members of my "family" changed the lives of the less senior members of my "family" forever. My colleagues were asked to pack up their desks. They were escorted to the door. Their boxes were searched for company property. They were replaced, almost immediately, by younger people willing to work for much lower salaries. Last November, weeks after delivering my second child, I returned to work to find a certain familiar smell in the air. Layoffs were imminent. My boss, who I had come to see as a friend, was suddenly not making eye contact with me. It looked like I was going to be kicked out of the family. And, indeed, I was. Now unemployed, with more spare time to listen to your show and think about what this recession means, I've been thinking again about that idea of the corporate family. Particularly, the emotional toll it must be taking on those of us who were cut off suddenly from the life and people they came to know, trust and sometimes even love. I have a strong urge to reach out to the people I work with, to be my most authentic self at work. But also a strong instinct to protect myself and see corporate life for what it is: an economic deal that can go south in a moment. How do we avoid applying these cold economic metaphors to our relationships with our work colleagues and friends, our bosses, past, present and future? How do we fight the bitterness, the powerlessness, we feel after a layoff? How do we return to our work with an expansive, open spirit ready to share our lives with new people and contribute to the group in a good way? To close up, contract, withdraw from people you share so much of your life with seems like a bit of a death. But it's so normal to recoil when struck. I've always loved this poem by Rumi about expansion and contraction being the very thing that keeps us alive: breathing. I'll keep it in mind as I turn toward my new work, new life, new family., whatever that may be. Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror up to where you're bravely working. Expecting the worst, you look, and instead, here's the joyful face you've been longing to see. Your hand opens and closes, and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contraction and expansion, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings. --Rumi

About the Project

Over the past several months, we've been exploring the spiritual and moral aspects of the economic downturn and flaws that have been exposed in financial systems. Online and on air, we've generated a challenging, edifying, cross-cultural conversation called Repossessing Virtue. We continue to look for fresh thinking and language for talking about what has happened and why — not just in terms of financial tools and strategies but in terms of personal conscience and values. We're looking for practical resources for individual and communal evaluation and renewal, moving forward from this crisis. In exploring the moral, spiritual, and practical aspects of the economic downturn, we've asked past guests, listeners, and other familiar voices for their wisdom and insight about the changing economic climate.

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