Working eight hours as a journeyman in a wood mill is less taxing than working all day on a farm. I was born and raised on a farm where we routinely put in fourteen-hour days, so the mill schedule is a welcome relief. I often volunteer to work longer hours rather than shutting the machines down if a project is close to completion. Though such an attitude is appreciated by my employers, some of my co-workers have found it irritating and even threatening.
One co-worker in particular seemed bothered by my attitude. During breaks and lunch, he made it his mission to harass me. Although I tried to ignore him, his constant comments eventually affected my work. I realized that one of the challenges in my career would be dealing with people from different backgrounds and with different values.
One day I got so tired of this man’s harassing me that I suggested we settle our differences in the parking lot. Fortunately, my strong background in the Church taught me how to listen to the Spirit. At the point when the confrontation on the cement was about to become a physical fight, the Spirit kept whispering that the Lord would not fight this man. At first I was frustrated with the direction I was getting from the Spirit, but finally I listened and stepped back. My co-worker was surprised and called me a coward. I told him that Christ wouldn’t fight him, and neither would I.
Although this man persisted in his taunting, I no longer gave ear to what he had to say. When I didn’t respond, neither did the other employees. I had learned an important lesson in dealing with others in a sometimes rough world.
And my world is sometimes rough. I am a wood moldings journeyman and knife specialist, with nine years of specialized training and twenty years of experience. I am very motivated by what I do, and I have worked hard to develop my talents and skills. Yet I and others in the world of blue-collar workers deal with spiritual challenges in our work almost daily.
One of the challenges I sometimes face is a lack of respect from others—neighbors, friends, ward members. I haven’t always wanted to be a craftsman. In fact, before entering the world of wood moldings I attended college, intending to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. In my junior year, my stake president, a veterinarian, gave me some timely advice. He informed me that though I was getting good grades, they would not be sufficient to get me into a training program in veterinary medicine. He advised me to rethink my goal.
I thought about what I enjoyed doing, trying to find something that could bring a lifetime of joy, satisfaction, and opportunity for continual growth. The Lord was kind in filling my mind with an accurate description of my interests, talents, and abilities.
When I left the university, it was because I had been introduced to a new world of training and opportunity that was not available except in the industry that utilized such skills. I had, in a sense, found myself.
From the start, I’ve encountered various attitudes from people who do not understand the value of my training and the complexity of my craft. Once a friend asked if I could help another friend of his who was struggling in his college endeavors. He wanted me to look into getting his friend a job in the mill; he figured that if the friend couldn’t succeed at school, he could always work at the mill.
I’m sure he didn’t realize what his request implied. I have had many such requests over the years from those who have felt that my line of work would be more appropriate for those who couldn’t succeed elsewhere. Unfortunately, those who lack the commitment to schooling often lack the commitment necessary for intense training in a craft. I have trained many people over the years, and those who became highly skilled in the art of making moldings were also successful in their schooling. The learning processes at a university may vary from those at the mill, but the same conscientious effort is essential.
As a blue-collar worker, I have sometimes seen that same condescending attitude in some of my employers, who may feel they can train anyone to do the job. An unfortunate challenge many craftsmen face is that because we do not carry certificates of achievement, we face the possibility that an employer may not accept or appreciate our extensive training and skills.
During my twenty years of working in wood mills, the employers I have learned the most from and have been able to contribute the most to are those who believe in me and my abilities. I am happy to have an employer who respects my two decades of experience and training and often asks my opinion about producing a new product. When I see that my knowledge and skills are useful in furthering the company’s success, I feel motivated to do my best.
In each of the mills where I have worked, I have found a wide variety of people and have observed a vast difference in the work ethic they bring to their jobs. It is sometimes a great challenge to deal with the few who have no real plans for their future and who give little thought to the quality of their work.
Further, I often find my work environment full of foul language and low moral values. I have met individuals who have lived a hard life, and their language is equally hard and offensive. By trial and error, I have found ways to let others know of my standards. I find that the most effective time to share my feelings about abusive language is not in a large group while on break, but when an individual is working with me alone and uses offensive language. I try to be friendly when I discuss my objections to such language.
Language isn’t the only thing difficult to deal with. Conversation often centers around women and sexual conquests. At first, I tried to show my displeasure with these conversation topics, but that brought only ridicule. I soon found that the most effective way to meet that challenge was to get up and leave. Eventually my co-workers became accustomed to my leaving when something crude was said; sometimes they would even warn me that something was coming. They seemed to respect my standards. I am appreciative that they have allowed me to walk away from conversations I find offensive.
I also want my co-workers to know that I like them as individuals. I try to cultivate their friendship by offering assistance anytime they need help at work or even after hours.
I have learned how to combat the bad language and stories by helping my co-workers understand who I am and what I stand for. That works for most things, but I have found a greater challenge in ridding my workplace of pornographic pictures. Although I don’t consider it my place to oppose what someone hangs in his private office or locker, I feel that my feelings and values should be respected regarding photographs displayed in public areas. Though I haven’t always been effective in having offensive pictures removed, I have continued to try. I feel strongly about this issue, and I have noticed the impact these pictures have on individuals. I try to help co-workers see that the workplace is much more productive and effective without such pictures.
As I pursue the quest to be the best craftsman my skills will allow, I also face the challenge to be a disciple of Christ in my everyday associations with my co-workers. You never know who is watching and who is following your lead, whether it be good or evil.
This became very apparent to me one morning. After arriving at work, I was leaning against my woodworking machine, deep in thought, when a fellow worker approached me and asked if I was OK. He seemed very sincere in his question, so I shared with him what had happened over the last twenty-four hours.
I told him I had been ordained a bishop the night before, and during the night a baby in our ward had died. I expressed how overwhelmed I was feeling with the new calling and the quickness of my need to respond to a very difficult situation. About that time he had to leave, as we needed to be about our work.
Forty-five minutes later, as I was working, I sought some peace by singing some Primary songs. Because of the noise of the machines, I usually can sing as loud as I want without bothering those around me. Then I noticed my friend, standing a short way off staring at me. He seemed perplexed. I put my tools down and went over to him.
“How can you sing after all that has happened to you in the last few days?” he asked.
I was surprised by his question, but before I could reply, he continued: “Should I be baptized?”
I answered that it was a great idea, but I couldn’t help but wonder why something that had happened to me would cause such a response in him. He went on to explain that if I could find peace under the situation I faced, then surely he could find peace in his life by becoming a member of the Church. It was exciting to watch the change that took place in this man over the next several months as he prepared to be baptized. His attitude about himself and his work changed. It was gratifying to see how the gospel affected him.
I set out twenty years ago to find a career that would help me find and develop my talents and that would make my life worthwhile. In the process, I embarked on a journey of continual learning—learning my trade and learning the great lessons of life as I have tried to deal with co-workers in a manner consistent with the gospel’s teachings. I have found challenges in my work, but I have not regretted my choice.