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My mom and I were just chatting about various news articles we've heard in the last few days.

I heard about a CEO at Beth Israel Daconess Hospital in Boston, who at a town hall meeting last week, did this:
And so Paul Levy had all this bouncing around his brain the other day when he stood in Sherman Auditorium.

He looked out into a sea of people and recognized faces: technicians, secretaries, administrators, therapists, nurses, the people who are the heart and soul of any hospital. People who knew that Beth Israel had hired about a quarter of its 8,000 staff over the last six years and that the chances that they could all keep their jobs and benefits in an economy in freefall ranged between slim and none.

"I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I'd like to get your reaction to it," Levy began. "I'd like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners - the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don't want to put an additional burden on them.

"Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice," he continued. "It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits."

He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when Sherman Auditorium erupted in applause. Thunderous, heartfelt, sustained applause.

Paul Levy stood there and felt the sheer power of it all rush over him, like a wave. His eyes welled and his throat tightened so much that he didn't think he could go on.

When the applause subsided, he did go on, telling the workers at Beth Israel, the people who make a hospital go, that he wanted their ideas.

The lump had barely left his throat when Paul Levy started getting e-mails.

The consensus was that the workers don't want anyone to get laid off and are willing to give up pay and benefits to make sure no one does. A nurse said her floor voted unanimously to forgo a 3 percent raise. A guy in finance who got laid off from his last job at a hospital in Rhode Island suggested working one less day a week. Another nurse said she was willing to give up some vacation and sick time. A respiratory therapist suggested eliminating bonuses.

"I'm getting about a hundred messages per hour," Levy said yesterday, shaking his head.

Paul Levy is onto something. People are worried about the next paycheck, because they're only a few paychecks away from not being able to pay the mortgage or the rent.

But a lot of them realize that everybody's in the same boat and that their boat doesn't rise because someone else's sinks.
Today, I saw that the physicians in the hospital have pooled about $350,000 to help out the hospital, and they're asking their colleagues for more. The CEO of the hospital reported on his blog that the 600 jobs that he thought he'd have to cut have been reduced to 150.
Beth Israel Deaconess, one of the city's major academic medical centers, said this month it is facing a $20 million loss in the current fiscal year, and would be looking at cost-cutting measures including layoffs.

Following the announcement, Paul Levy, the hospital's chief executive, met with employees and solicited ideas to save money and preserve jobs. This week, he wrote on his blog that the meetings had resulted in enough cost savings to reduce the number of planned layoffs from 600 to 150.

To further reduce the number of layoffs, the department heads each contributed about $27,000 from their annual pay.

I called my mom to tell her about it, and she told me about an NPR story she heard a few days ago. A church in Michigan, like everywhere else, is feeling the pinch of these economic times. But the pastor there had an idea.
On Jan. 25, worshippers at Fair Haven were greeted with a little surprise. DeVries preached about Jesus' parable of the talents. At the end of the sermon, he stood in front of the pulpit and pulled a wad of $100 bills out of his pocket — worth $5,000.

"I want at least 25 volunteers to make their way on down," DeVries announced. "And we're going to do this right now, and we're going to see what God has in store through us and with us."

The pastor asked his congregants to take the money and multiply it. The proceeds would be used for ministries serving the poor in Grand Rapids.

"I think at first they were stunned," DeVries says. "Then they were fearful because they had to come up front to get it. But as they began to think about it, they came up with all kinds of crazy ideas."

The ideas ranged from a chili cook-off and a music extravaganza, to a doggie day spa and a jewelry-maker.

"People can bring their dogs in and we'll wash 'em, dry 'em, and they pick them up later in the day," said Mark Tuttle. And it looks like business will be good.

"It's really muddy out here this time of year, in spring. The dogs are really dirty. So $15 is a small price to pay to get your dog washed," he says.

Kelly Bosch is making silver necklaces for a $15 donation. "These are all custom-stamped on metal, and you pick your favorite Bible verse, so they're custom-made just for you."

Bosch was one of two dozen people displaying their projects at a fair held between church services on a recent Sunday.
One woman spent her $100 on admission tickets, and got everything else donated for the fair: food, auction items, everything else was donated. And they managed to raise $12,000. The church thinks that they're going to give to the poor more than they ever have before.

Thinking about these two stories, I was struck a little by the sense of community that the two organizations tapped into. The hospital obviously had a relatively affluent population of physicians who were highly vested in the hosptial's success, but the church also had a group that wasn't willing to let the ministries fail. And each organization asked their people to look at their own talents and see how they could help out.

When I was talking to my mom, I said that this reminded me of something, and it took me a second to click. Then I realized: the gift economy at Burning Man. Burning Man runs on the talents of the individuals who go to Black Rock City. Everyone thinks about what it is that they can contribute to the community to make it stronger, and then they do it, bring it out to the middle of the desert in the middle of the summer, and give to the rest of the community that has gathered there. The trick is that everyone relies upon their own talents to make for a bigger community. The self, the individual, is absolutely critical to the success of the organization. Each person's individual contribution makes for a much bigger whole.

It seems that reaching back to the concept of community by highlighting the individual makes us all stronger. And if the individual focuses on the community, then everyone benefits.


( 6 comments — Say something )
Mar. 20th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
What great stories -- thanks for sharing these! Maybe this is the next step in American cultural evolution -- from community to individualism to a new model of individual-driven community?
Mar. 20th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
My husband's company voluntarily gave up their raises this year so that everyone could continue to work. Their company isn't public (they almost went that way, we are so glad they didn't) and they are doing well right now but there are no guarantees in life. They decided to so that it would hopefully stay good for them.

I think we will see a lot more of this sort of thing as time goes on. I agree, we help each other and this goes so much better.
Mar. 20th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
Wow, what great stories! Thank you for sharing -- am passing them around!
Mar. 20th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
Those are wonderful stories. Thank you for sharing them!
Mar. 20th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
its nice to be reminded that man, as a species, are not all selfish, greedy or self-serving.

thank you for restoring some of the faith i had lost in society in general after the madoff scandal and the AIG swindle.
Mar. 24th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
I drifted in, for personal reasons your post brought tears to my eyes, but they were good tears. Thanks for putting this post out there.
( 6 comments — Say something )