It’s one of those commonplaces that you will be reading something, and a statement is made or an idea is expressed that suddenly illuminates an area of your life so directly that you’re stunned you had never realized it before.
That happened to me this past week. I was reading chapter six of L.L. Barkat’s God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us (entitled “presence”). She quoted author Wendell Berry speaking about marginal land – land where things don’t easily grow because the soil is poor or eroded or the land doesn’t get much rainfall or is exhausted from overfarming. This is what Berry said:
“It is at the margins that the weaknesses of an enterprise will show first and most dramatically.”
In one of those blinding flashes of the obvious, I realized that my entire career had just been expressed in one simple sentence. And it’s because my career, the work that I have done and do, has been and is spent at the margins of the enterprises I’ve worked for. And those margins are precisely where the organizations’ weaknesses have been the most obvious.
I work in communications – public affairs, public relations, corporate communications; it goes by many names. Specifically, I work in those small spaces between organizations and their various publics and constituencies, with the idea that my job is to help all of the parties involved better understand each other. Yes, one provides my paycheck; I can’t forget that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t represent contrary viewpoints coming from the public to help my organization do things better, improve a situation, correct a mistake, or take a different course.
I don’t “spin.” I have never “spun.” That may be hard to believe of someone who’s spent 35+ years in public relations. But that’s the situation. The reason is simple: my credibility is all I have, all my organization has, to be successful.
But because I’ve operated where the organizations are weakest, it’s no surprise that I have often had to deal with as much suspicion on the “inside” and I have on the “outside.”
And it’s sometimes very wearing. I’ve worked for or consulted for an oil company, two chemical companies, an agricultural company, an urban school district, a mining company, a pork producer (I know what a pig farm smells like), among a lot of others. Controversial organizations in controversial situations dealing with controversial issues. Or, the margins, where the organizations are the weakest. Large organizations are often the most fragile at the margins, where their operations meet the public.
Barkat amplifies and personalizes Wendell Berry’s statement this way: “Without strengthening the enterprise of one’s life, stress can continue to travel inward, encroaching on seemingly fertile land, until the whole plot is eventually decimated.”
The margins are more than important. They’re vital.
Sabbath Joy by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.