Cookie Schwaeber-Issan

The Moral Dilemmas We Are Being Asked To Confront These Days

It’s just not natural to burn your hand, and not scream out in pain.  Likewise, if you are a trusted and loyal employee, it’s just not natural to watch a bunch of thugs come into your store, and make off with a huge pile of clothes, without saying a word. But that was what was expected of two young Lululemon employees who were recently fired when their store was robbed by hoodlums.

According to the CEO, Calvin McDonald, there is a zero-tolerance policy against confronting thieves who come in to steal.  While that policy may have been well-intended, in order to protect the workers, it is a request which flies against all natural instincts when something wrong is perpetrated right before one’s eyes.

From the store footage which we, the public, have seen on televised reports, the two young women, who worked in the store, merely said, “Get Out” in a forceful voice.  It does not appear that they physically confronted the robbers or even verbally said more than those two words.  Yet, they were summarily fired and made to be an example of what happens when someone dares to think for themselves by reacting as any normal and sane person would.

But that’s the problem.  We are no longer living in sane times.  New York subway riders are expected to allow a mentally disturbed person to threaten all the passengers, without attempting to neutralize him in any way, because if you do, and then something happens to him, you could be tried for murder.  A bodega owner is not permitted to defend himself when being brutally beaten, because shooting him could get the owner sent to the slammer, and that’s exactly what happened until enough pressure had been placed on the District Attorney to have him released, and declared innocent, as a result of obvious self-defense.

Rapes and other assaults, in this new, insane world, are to be filmed rather than confronted or stopped.  In short, we are being asked to respond in a way which is completely unnatural to our eyes, our conscience and our common sense.

With all this as a backdrop, it came as a bit of a surprise to me, as I was traveling to Tel Aviv yesterday, to see a huge billboard on the highway, advertising that Lululemon has opened up a branch store in the Ramat Aviv Mall, which is north of the city.  My first instinct was to remember this story, since it only happened a week ago, and recall the injustice which was suffered by these two workers.  The irony is that their response was a complete knee-jerk reaction as any loyal, trusted and responsible worker would do, but for acting in a completely sane manner, they were sacked.

To stand in silence, and not react, would have constituted an act that demanded turning off their conscience and pretending as if nothing happened at all.  In fact, it would have been tantamount to handing the robbers an engraved invitation saying, “Come back real soon.”

There are reasonable requests, made by employers, as it relates to customer service, but this is surely not one of them.  Whoever decided that, “Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil” was a good tactic, in how to respond to a crime in progress, was definitely not considering one’s moral and ethical upbringing, because none of us are ever taught to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing.  And to require a worker to do so, or face the consequences of losing their livelihood, is just as immoral as the act which was committed in the store by those thugs.

The time has caught up with all of us, where each one must decide if the new rules of society, to which we are being asked to adhere, are in line with our principles, values and ethics or if obeying them will create a moral dilemma within ourselves, causing us to have to choose between our job or our personal creed.

These days, it’s not easy being loyal to what you’ve been told is correct or remaining firm in our beliefs, which have been formed over a lifetime.  Each day, we are being told that we must be willing to go with the flow, whatever that demands, and for those who are unwilling, there is a price to pay.  That price can come by way of being labeled a bigot, a phobe of some sort, an extremist, a conspiracy theorist or just evil.

But that’s the key!  When you frighten and intimidate people enough, by threatening their good name, and, in this case, their livelihood, you can, pretty much, get them to relent to whatever it is you want, and, in the Lululemon event, the CEO made good on his demand.

It is for this reason, that it would be difficult for me to support Lululemon, even though the Tel Aviv branch had nothing to do with what occurred in Peachtree Corners, Georgia.  It is, simply, because of the store policy, which expects humans to react exactly like the artificial intelligence which may soon replace so many of us.  But Calvin McDonald needs to remember that employees are made of flesh and blood as well as a heart and a brain.  To expect honest, hard-working and devoted employees to not feel, similar to a robot, is to believe that you have hired the Tin Man and the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.  It’s entirely possible that their lack of a heart and a brain would have enabled them to meet the requirements of what was expected of these workers.

In the meantime, it would be great for Calvin McDonald to use his own brain and his own heart to walk back an impossible expectation which is not in keeping with anyone who has even the slightest bit of integrity, a moral compass and a working conscience, because it’s possible that others may also remember this incident and come to the conclusion that sanity is found in a company that rewards their employees who look out for them!

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.