Corporate Culture Isn’t Culture

Lately, journalists and business pundits have blamed culture failures for every corporate scandal, whether it’s Uber, Volkswagen, or Wells Fargo. Corporate leaders talk of culture as if it is simply a matter of values, principles, and rules.

The way they talk about corporate culture demeans culture.

It’s as if the president or prime minister of a nation picked a few values, slapped them on everyone’s mouse pads and drink cups, and called it a culture.

Culture is not that simple.

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Middle America

Television has never quite gotten middle America. Aside from The Andy Griffith Show and The Middle, TV producers have tended to portray the people living in the small cities and rural towns of the U.S. heartland and the South as backward rubes and zealots. At best, colorful and quirky.

The news media underestimates them. Politicians look down on them. Reality TV lampoons their worst side.

Which brings me to Fixer Upper. The ubiquitous home renovation show opens a window on red state America like nothing else on television. In place of the usual stereotypes, Fixer Upper highlights a small town America populated by people who are much like people living anywhere else in the U.S. They love their families, friends, houses, and hometowns. They work hard, but they have their fun. Aside from Joanna Gaines’ obsession with wood-paneled walls and ceilings, the people on the show seem perfectly normal.

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Charlottesville and the Heritage of Shame

It’s history, they say of the monuments. You can’t erase history.

It’s heritage, not hate, they say of the Confederate flag.

After Charlottesville, after the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists, and the murder of a young woman who stood up to them, how can they stand for anything but hate?

I was born in the South, in Georgia. I grew up there in the 1960s and 1970s. In school we learned about history. When we studied the Civil War, we would learn about the events and people leading up to the war: the Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott, the abolitionists, and the election of Abraham Lincoln. And year after year, when class was over, our friends, some of our elders, would take us aside to educate us about the “real” reasons for the fight.

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Why the Maya?

Three decades, three trips along the Ruta Maya. México’s Yucatán; Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize; Chiapas and back to Yucatán. I suppose I should explain.

I owe my interest to my teacher, William Evans. Dr. Evans was a poet, a novelist, and a farmer. In the summer of my junior year of college, he was my creative writing professor. He didn’t hold class per se. Students visited his office once a week to drop off short stories and hear what he thought of what they had written the previous week.

Dr. Evans was critical and encouraging, generous with his time. He always told me to write something every day, to write for at least one hour. Every day I don’t write something I feel I’ve let him down.

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México Coda: Safety

November 2016

People in the U.S. believe México isn’t safe. They hear tales of drug gangs gunning people down in the streets, kidnapping people for ransom, and having shoot-outs with the police and military.

Such concerns made me wary of returning to México for a long time. When you talk to people in México, you learn that the truly dangerous places are well known: the areas in the north of the country leading to the U.S. border, and the Veracruz region along the Gulf of México. Everyone here will tell you that.

I felt safe traveling in Chiapas and Yucatán. People were friendly and tolerant of my rusty Spanish. Even driving around, I felt secure, if not sure of where I was going.

Highlights: Chiapas and Yucatán, México

November 2016

Mérida’s little airport could use some signs. How I could end up with three other people in the wrong part of the A gates is beyond me. In my defense, it was five in the morning.

Terminal 2 in México City is a much better organized departure point than the chaos of Terminal 1 in which I had arrived eleven days before. I had only one hour to make my connection today. I made it with fifty-five minutes to spare.

It’s been twenty years since I last was in México. Much has changed. The airport is more modern, in places. The country is more modern, too. There seems to be a more stable middle class, although there’s still much poverty. Services are better than I recall.

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Mérida, México
November 2016

I tend to leave souvenir shopping for the last day or two. I’m too busy traveling and seeing things at other times. And I don’t want to accumulate too many things early in the trip, especially if they are breakable. Karimé’s shot glasses are definitely a last-day purchase.

The drawback to this strategy becomes apparent when I reach the last destination and realize that those great jaguar figurines that were so plentiful in the street market at San Cristóbal de las Casas or in the artisan market at the Palenque ruins can’t be found in the markets and souvenir shops of Mérida. I know just where one should go on a credenza in my living room.

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