The Post Office enquiry is reminding us that there is an erratic correlation between power, wisdom, and status. People who are ‘sub-‘ in many kinds of work cannot be sure they will be genuinely and intelligently respected. Some leave work because its organisation and ethos makes them ill. ‘Employment statistics aren’t just bellwethers of the economy and changing times; they also say a lot about the way we treat each other and the kind of country we want to live in’.

When I want a key cut, I go to a little cabin, close by Sainsbury’s in Moortown. It is run by a very cheerful efficient man, who is what the firm of Timpson calls ‘a colleague’. James Timpson gives clues to the significance of the word in his article Burnt-out and taken for granted: Britain’s workers need upside-down management | James Timpson | The Guardian.  

The business, he says, has a culture of ‘upside-down management’. In Timpson board meetings, we won’t hear much about money, but a lot about

‘our colleagues’ happiness, and the levers we use to inspire and care for them. The more money we invest in our culture of kindness, the better the business performs. And so, those colleagues who serve customers have complete authority to do what they think is right. They can ignore guidelines from the office, as long as they stick to our only two rules: put the money in the till and look the part. Everyone else in the business is there to help them, not tell them what to do.’

Please read the article for yourself, before you decide this approach is impractical fancy. Go to your local Timpson shop and ask the colleague in charge there whether it rings true.

I think it has a whiff of the Gospel about it, though many might not be able to give that name to its pleasant energising scent. Jesus warns us against ‘despising one of these little ones’ and to beware lest we put stumbling blocks in their way (Matt 18.10-14 – it is not only children who are ‘little’). Jesus sends his disciples to work on the principle ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Matt.10.8). That is the spirit of the culture we are given to live within, and to display and share with others. When giving is freely done, no obligation to return the gift is imposed on the recipients, and freedom evaporates in transaction When we return a kindness because it has put us in debt, we build up the coercive debt culture: freedom on both sides is eliminated.

But the discovery and shared enjoyment of freedom is essential to Gospel culture (Rom 8.12-27; Gal.4.31-5.1, 13-16). God gives freely out of the fullness of God, without money, without price (Isaiah 55.1-13). God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit brings us into a freedom, where nothing is extorted from us, but where we are affirmed and appealed to as free people, so with a free spirit we give all we are to God and his service which is perfect freedom (Psalm 51.10-12, John  8.36).

By Haddon Willmer