About the Jump in Safety Violations

The Plant Manager (PM) was not a happy man.

Occupying the space in front of his desk, and looking quite uncomfortable were his Safety Coordinator (SC), his Operations Manager (OM), and three shift supervisors.

“I thought you were going to improve our safety record,” said the Plant Manager, looking at the Safety Coordinator. “Instead, safety violations have multiplied! Things are getting worse!”

“We haven’t had any more injuries on the job over the last six months,” said the OM.

“But look at the risk! Look at the way safety violations have increased! How do you explain it?” He was look at the SC again.

“Well, I created a new safety code,” said the SC.

“Is it a better safety code?” asked the PM, “Or is it creating all these errors?”

“It’s better. We’re recognizing errors that we weren’t noticing before,” said the SC.

“But a new safety code should make us safer!” The PM’s look said that he thought the SC might be mentally impaired, or perhaps intoxicated.

“I beg your pardon,” said a voice, a bit timidly. It was one of the supervisors.

“What?” snapped the PM as the OM and SC looked on in shock. Why on earth would a mere supervisor invite attention in a meeting like this.

“I don’t think a new safety code, however good, will make people safer. It just identified issues. In fact, many of the workers don’t really know what’s in it. Some of them don’t care that much.”

“What do you mean they don’t care? They have to care! It’s the work rules. If they don’t really care, fire them!”

“Well,” said the supervisor, a bit more confidently. If she was about to be fired, she might as well fully earn it! “There’s no incentive to work more safely. There has been no time taken to train people to work more safely. We’re already short on manpower, so people don’t worry as much about getting fired, because they know we don’t have a drawer full of applications to take their places. They also don’t understand just how the safety code is going to make them safer.”

“You just haven’t told them frequently enough that they need to follow the safety code,” said the PM.

“I tell them every day. They aren’t motivated. They don’t understand it. They don’t see how it applies to them. Some of them look at it and figure it’s just too hard to follow and not worth it.” She was thinking that the sense of already being fired, suggested by the looks on all the manager’s faces, and the fact that her fellow supervisors had moved to distance themselves from her, made it easy to be courageous.

The PM thought he would fire the supervisor, but he wasn’t going to do it in this meeting. Instead, he looked at the SC. “I want a better safety code, well-written, precise. One that the workers will follow. I want posters put up on every wall, reminding people of the safety code. This plant will, by God, have an excellent safety record.”

“But …” started the supervisor.

“Shut up!” said the PM.

(Now read Romans 7. Are you, as a parent, as a teacher, as a church leader behaving like the PM? The SC? What is it that actually changes people’s behavior?)

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any character to anyone in real life is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2020, Henry E. Neufeld.

So Dark, So Cold

I run my fingers over the incised lettering on the sign.

At least I think it’s incised lettering.

I think it’s a sign.

It’s hard to tell if I really have fingers.

It’s dark and it’s cold. At the last sign, I thought the number was a nine. If it was, I missed one mile marker.

Or maybe it wasn’t there. How can I be sure? It’s so hard to remember. I’m so cold.

Around the eighth mile marker you should see a light, below you, down the mountain.

I thought I saw the light, but I never found the marker. Then the trail turned off to the right, and I lost sight of it. Right now, it’s hard to remember what light is.

The goal is mile maker five, where there’s a farm house, a telephone, access to emergency services. Someone to go back and help my companion more than ten miles back in these mountains.

He’s the one who said there was a path, who told me about the mile markers, who said I’d see a light.

I reach out my fingers to the mile marker, but I can’t really see it. I reach out my fingers. Or I think I’m reaching them out. It’s hard to tell. I can’t tell if it’s a sign or a tree.

What should I do?

Go until you see the light. Keep going until the light is directly to your left. You’ll find the driveway.

The light is just a promise. A promise from someone who has been this way before.

Just a promise.

But it’s a promise from someone who knows the way.

I turn back to the trail, or at least where I think there’s a trail. I put out one foot and take a step.

No matter how dark, or how cold, keep looking toward the light.

There it is, just above that ridge.

There is a light.

Featured Image Credit: Adobe Stock #296811018 Licensed, not public domain.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any event or character to those in the real world is coincidental. Copyright © 2020, Henry E. Neufeld

An Opinion

“But I know nothing about dam construction!” The exclamation was somewhat exasperated.

“Just look at it,” said Geoff. He pointed at the dam which was holding back a small lake in the narrow valley above. Below it, the land spread out fairly quickly into gently rolling farmland. The obvious issue was the land immediately below the dam, in which there were scattered fruit trees and a few small houses, just shelters really.

“I see it,” said Ron, “but I still don’t know anything about dams. I can’t tell you whether it’s a good idea to turn that land into an orchard.”

“But you’re the smartest man I know. Surely you have somewhat of an idea!”

“Any idea I have is uninformed and unsupported. I really don’t want to give you an inaccurate assessment of your risk. You need to get a real expert.”

“There you go with the big words. I just want a simple answer, yes or no. I think you just don’t understand the importance of this, the income I can derive from cultivating that land. I just want an opinion on whether this dam will hold. It has held for decades, after all.”

“It sounds like you already have an opinion.”

“Yes, but I want yours.”

Ron looked at the dam and studied it. No matter how long he looked it just looked like rocks, dirt, some concrete, holding back a lake. It almost looked like part of the landscape.

“Well, for what it’s worth,” he said finally, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” That’s not a lie, he assured himself. I really don’t see anything wrong with it. Nothing right with it either. It’s just there.

“Good!” said Geoff. “Just what I wanted to hear. I knew you’d see it my way. You’re the smartest person I know.”

Somehow that last statement made Ron feel guilty.


Years passed, and then came the flood. It was hardly anyone’s fault that people weren’t prepared. The snows melted in the mountains, and the spring rains were heavier than usual, but all that was well upstream.

Yes, it was a rainy spring, but until the mix of broken ice and water came pouring down through the valley. The dam didn’t resist for more than a few minutes. Many farms downstream were severely damaged, but the orchard below the damn was wiped out, along with Geoff’s new house.

Geoff showed up on Ron’s doorstep. Ron’s house wasn’t near the path of destruction.

“Dead,” said Geoff. “All dead. My family. In the house. Dead.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Ron, wondering why he was feeling guilty. After all, he hadn’t sent the rain.

“Gone!” shouted Geoff. “All gone! Washed away!” He waved his arm as though he was seeping trash off a table top.

Ron could tell that Geoff was blaming him for the destruction. “I’m sorry for your losses,” he said dully.

“You should have told me,” said Geoff. “You should have told me the dam was no good.”

“It was only an opinion. I told you I wasn’t an expert on dam building.”

Geoff turned and stumbled away. “You should have told me,” he was muttering as he left.

Ron stood watching him. It was only an opinion. I told him I wasn’t an expert.

A Day for Men to Talk about the Women in Their Lives

“I’m wondering if we’re going to do anything about International Women’s Day in our church,” said Dr. Maggie Williams.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of anything in the story to anything in real life is purely accidental. Copyright © 2019, Henry E. Neufeld

“Of course,” said Pastor Bill Allen. “I’m planning a sermon about the wonderful ladies in my life this Sunday.” His smile was beatific, expressing his confidence in “having this one covered.” Maggie imagined he practiced that smile in the mirror.

“But …” Maggie started to respond.

Bill knew when to keep control of a conversation, and he figured this was such a time. “I’ll begin,” he interrupted, “with my sainted mother, who gave her life so that I could be in ministry. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

“But,” Maggie began again, and then plowed forward, using her experience as an Emergency Room physician in keeping control of the conversation in turn. “Your mother never worked a day outside of her home.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Pastor Bill. Maggie suspected the expression of shocked disappointment, about a four on a five point scale, was also the result of practice.

Maggie got up to leave. As she reached the door, she said, “I imagine that to you International Women’s day is a day for men to talk about the women in their lives.

She didn’t see the entirely genuine look of surprise, consideration, and then visceral rejection she left behind.

(Featured image credit: Pixabay.)

A Failure

The meeting was over. The contracts were signed. His business was sold. In fact, he had just sold it for considerably less than he had expected to.

What had gone wrong?

The younger man across the table from him wondered for a moment why the seller hadn’t gotten up and left. He, the newcomer, now owned the place, after all.

“What went wrong?” The voice was tired, old, faded.

“I suppose you expected to sell more quickly and at a higher price.” Matter of fact. Calm. In control.

“Yes. It should have worked. All my life it has worked.”

“What? What worked?”

“My negotiations. I’ve bought and sold any number of companies. I have years of experience on you.”

“The resume doesn’t impress me. The data, the facts on the ground, the bottom line. Those impress me.”

“The bottom line was somewhat better than what you based your offer on.”

“Do you actually believe that?”

“Of course I believe it! I know this company. I know what it’s worth.” The vigor was back.

“And dozens of men and women, business leaders, have believed you when you made such claims.”

“Because I’m successful. I’m important. Just my name has value!”

“I suppose you have to believe that. But I don’t.”

Several varieties of anger made their way across the older man’s face. He wanted to call the younger man inexperienced, to promise him failure. To negatively compare the younger man’s status with his own. But he was sitting in this room that now belonged to the younger man. “You have no respect for your elders.”

“At what point have I shown disrespect?” The question was curious. Not surprised, angry, ashamed. Just mildly curious.

“By calling all my claims lies.”

“The claims were false.”

“But thousands, maybe even millions believe my perspective, my judgement.”

“That doesn’t make you right. It may make you popular, but it doesn’t make you right.”

“You see! Disrespect!”

“So pointing out facts is disrespect.” The younger man was wavering on the point of cutting the conversation off, but he was still curious.

“I’m a great businessman! A young pup like you has no business challenging me!”

“You know, you’ve made a career of that kind of statement. You challenge people to tell you you’re wrong. You bluster. And it worked. It worked right up until there was nobody left who hadn’t been burned by your ideas, and the one man with the money to buy you out wasn’t buying your ‘perspective.'”

The older man jumped up. “You insolent young pup! Nobody! Nothing!” And he stormed out of the room. He looked behind him. How many people had followed him out of a room when he stormed out? But nobody followed him this time.

There comes a time, thought the younger man, when the balloon deflates. Too bad so many people lose their shirts in the meantime.


(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)

It Was Only One Little Thing

“I’ve heard there was a time when this village was a nice, quiet, and safe place to live.” The man’s voice was distant, as though he was trying to remember something.

The group of villagers in the small pub all looked his way. Though he had spoken quite softly, everyone heard. It was that quiet in the room.

The silence returned for a few moments. Then it was interrupted by a cackling laugh.

Everyone looked at the old woman in the corner. Everybody knew her so well that actually nobody knew her at all. She was just there, as she had been as long as anyone could remember. They were pretty sure she was a widow, though nobody could remember a time when she had a husband. Now she seemed to be chuckling. In appearance, she could have illustrated the word “crone” in the dictionary.

“You’ve heard there was a time,” said the old woman. “Indeed, there was a time.” She paused for a moment, and spat on the ground. “Most of you were alive then. You just don’t remember.”

The folks in the room looked back at her. Nobody asked her anything and she didn’t volunteer anything more. Finally, the first man broke the silence. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“If you tried,” she said, “you could remember that time yourself. But you don’t want to. All of you, and many of your parents, were responsible for bringing it to an end.”

“Tell us about it,” said the man.

“Well,” said the old woman after a few moments, “I doubt it will do you any good, but I’ll tell you. It sure didn’t do you any good the first time.”

“You see, back even longer ago, there was a horrible time in this village. Our baron was a cruel man who would order people killed for any reason or no reason at all. He taxed all our crops at a rate of better than 50%. He charged incredible tariffs on goods brought into town. Nobody other than a few of his cronies lived in even moderate comfort.”

“So what’s different?” muttered someone. Nobody was sure who.

“Well, nothing’s different now. But for a short period of time, things were completely different. Amazingly different.

“A traveling soldier/adventurer came into town one day. The baron decided that he wanted all that the soldier owned for his own. Unfortunately for the baron, however, the soldier was not that easy of a target and he refused to be robbed. In fact, he refused to pay the taxes the baron demanded. He sat right here in this pub, and he told the baron’s tax collector to go get stuffed.

“When the baron’s guards attacked him, he disarmed them. He left them bruised but otherwise undamaged. The baron decided that his best option was to simply ignore the soldier until he chose to move on. It certainly wouldn’t do to have his guards cleverly disarmed. Better if they were killed! As it was people were laughing.” The old woman laughed again, this time until she started choking. Then she got control of herself again.

“The problem with ignoring the soldier,” she continued, “was that people started to wonder if there wasn’t a way that they could live as free of the baron’s interference as the soldier did. So they asked him.

“The soldier told them that it was quite simple. ‘Unity,’ he said. ‘Unity is what you need.’ So the people asked him what he meant by that. He explained that the baron wasn’t really personally all that powerful of a man. His guards weren’t that good. Yes, they were armed, unlike the other villagers, but they really weren’t better.

“‘The baron isn’t better either, just because he was born a baron. So there’s not reason he actually has to get his way,’ the soldier said. This made sense to everyone. There was lots of argument, but the soldier explained to them that unity was the one requirement. If the villagers would act in unity to keep their freedom, nothing else would matter. If they allowed themselves to be divided, they’d lose again.

“It all made so much sense when the soldier said it, so the villagers decided to go along. He explained that as long as the villagers required that the baron get their agreement to everything, and they were reasonable about it, they could live in freedom and they could prosper.

“So the villagers began to require that they agree to anyone who was to be punished. Wrongdoers were brought into the village square and the entire town had to agree to their punishment. Taxes were divided evenly according to people’s ability to pay and were agreed on by everyone. Tariffs were set as everyone desired, so generally goods that were needed were allowed in at reasonable rates. There was a certain amount of protecting local craftsmen, but the protections were applied evenly.

“All this lasted for a few years. Every time anyone complained or tried to lead us off track, we’d shut them down. Unity was the one key, the only thing that would keep us free. If we gave that up, we’d quickly lose everything else as well.

“Then came the day when one farmer was more prosperous than others. His farm was producing better and he was making more money. So a couple of his neighbors made an agreement with the baron. They charged him with an infraction. They came before the whole town. They explained that he had been caught robbing his neighbors red-handed, and there was no need for proof as was normally required.

“That established a new principle. The baron could now punish an wrongdoer who was caught in the act. Everybody thought it was a minor concession and quite reasonable. Like you folks, they had forgotten the past. They thought they could give up a little bit and keep what they wanted. Besides, the prosperous farmer had awakened envy in everyone.

“Thus unity died. It seemed a minor thing. Nobody admitted to themselves that they didn’t really know if the farmer was guilty of all the acts he was accused of. They didn’t want to know. It didn’t seem important.

“When another villager was taken by the baron’s men without a trial before the village, everyone hesitated. Was this a proper exception to the rule or not? Was it not possible that the charges were made up? The second person accused was more popular than the first, but still stood enough apart from the rest that people hesitated. And while they hesitated, the baron took action. Once the baron had acted, it required organization to take action, and it was hard to get people organized.

“Before long there was no more unity in the village.”

“But after all,” said the man, “it was just one person. Surely the death of one person couldn’t end the prosperity of the entire village.”

“Ah, but it did,” said the old woman. “I remember it clearly. Once the unity was broken, there was no going back. But the temptation was so strong, that people fell for it.” She paused, while everyone fell silent again.

“I remember it so clearly, the day the village betrayed my husband.”

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org. This story is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2017, Henry E. Neufeld.)