Treat Others the Way Chick-fil-A Treats You

I sit down on a plush, blue-grey booth seat and admire the freshly cut daisies on the table in front of me. It’s a rainy day in Fort Wayne, Indiana, so the warmth of the spicy crispy chicken sandwich I prepare to sink my teeth into enlivens me. Unthinkingly, I tune in to a conversation happening at a window table to my right.

“Here at Chick-fil-A, we treat our colleagues in the back kitchen as well as we treat our customers,” I overhear a supervisor sharing with a new employee.

I smile to myself as I consider how this rule helps explain Chick-fil-A’s wild success. The ethos that permeates the restaurant—one where all are treated with equal respect and kindness—must be the reason for the unfailing joy that all employees, from management to servers, embody.

It also explains the fierce customer loyalty, a group in which I include myself.

“Can I offer you some fresh-ground pepper for your waffle fries?” a middle-aged woman with a bright smile catches my eye and asks me, temporarily suspending my eavesdropping.

Intrigued by what I overheard the supervisor saying to the new employee, I decided to dig deeper into the training that Chick-fil-A offers employees.

People Skills

I learned that the exchange I overheard is only the tip of the iceberg: Chick-fil-A employees undergo a comprehensive crash course in all things people skills before hitting the floor.

The chain’s hospitality principles, their “Core 4 recipe for service,” include eye contact (it shows you’re listening), a warm smile (a guest can tell if you’re forcing a grin), speaking with enthusiasm (remember that your posture conveys tone), and staying connected (call customers by name, and make each interaction hospitable rather than transactional).

They encourage employees to provide “Second Mile Service,” a reference to Matthew 5:41—And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two—to go above and beyond the call of duty in an attempt to see their customers are taken care of. (The founder, S. Truett Cathy, was a devout Christian, as is his son and current Chick-fil-A Vice President, Donald M. “Bubba” Cathy).

One customer told me of a time where two Chick-fil-A managers helped him jump his car. I’ve also observed an employee taking a tableside order of a family with small children or an elderly person, ever proactive to alleviate the parent’s or other customer’s stress.

Chick-fil-A employees are encouraged to assist customers with disabilities throughout the duration of the customer’s stay. Customers of any background can expect to be treated to an umbrella’d walk from the restaurant to their car in the rain.

Any student of organizational management should be enthralled by this. How is it possible to have such continuity of excellence across the thousands of individually owned and operated Chick-fil-A franchises around the country?

Getting It Right

In the 2018 annual QSR Magazine survey, Chick-fil-A came out on top as the restaurant most likely to get your order right (97 percent). But more than just the quality of service—not to mention delicious sandwiches—Chick-fil-A has found its way into the hearts of its customers, positioning itself as among the most beloved fast food restaurants in history.

The restaurant is not without its detractors. It garnered negative attention when its then-president, Mr. Christy Jr., came out in opposition to same-sex marriage.

In response, the company’s spokesperson said that Chick-fil-A’s 80,000+ workforce are varied and diverse, “but what they all have in common is a heart for service and passion for making great food,” a spokeswoman said.

Despite naysayers, the poultry purveyor is thriving: sales hit $6 billion in 2015, achieving nearly a half-century of consecutive growth. Also according to QSR Magazine’s 2017 sales report, Chick-fil-A’s average sales per restaurant were $4.4 million, which surpasses McDonalds and KFC by $2 and $3 million, respectively—and this is with one less day of business than other restaurants (it is closed on Sundays.)

Conventional wisdom in employee performance states that one must pay employees more if they want better performance. According to Glassdoor, the payscale of Chick-fil-A employees—from entry level positions to managers—does not differ significantly from that of McDonald’s and other competitors: both range from $7-11/ per hour for entry level positions and rise to $45,000 and over per year.

The difference is the other-oriented atmosphere that the company promotes at all levels—from the company’s corporate leadership, to franchise owners, to managers and employees.

As some restaurants turn to robots—for reasons ranging from efficiency to cost savings and workforce shortages—Chick-fil-A’s success is attributable to its values-based management, and emphasis on the personal, human touch.

For all the contemporary concern about automation and technology displacing humans in jobs and disrupting person-to-person relationships, Chick-fil-A offers consolation—their story, but also their spicy chicken sandwich.

What the Game of Thrones Finale Can Teach Us About Politics Today

One cannot write about this show with any insight without also, however inadvertently, giving away some plot twists, which is to say: what you will read contains spoilers. So if you don’t want to know, or didn’t join the 20 million people who watched the final season and still want the element of surprise, you have been warned: stop reading now.

And yet the lessons you will gain from the most criticized of all the seasons could be the most important lesson you will ever encounter in politics — or maybe in life. Here is what this piece discusses.

“Everywhere she goes, evil men die, and we cheer her for it,” Tyrion Lannister explains to a confounded Jon Snow — both men still grappling with the gravity of Daenerys Targaryen’s slaughter of the citizens of King’s Landing in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones.

“She grows more powerful, and more sure that she is good and right,” he continues. “She believes her destiny is to build a better world for everyone. If you believed that — if you truly believed it — wouldn’t you kill whoever stood between you and paradise?”

This is a provoking thought. It is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of means and methods in both politics and life, and the hazard of justifying horrors to achieve noble ends. It is an important reminder that justice at any cost is not justice at all.

“Of all tyrannies,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive… those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

The Dragon Queen Daenerys Targaryen, in many instances, was a liberator of the oppressed and a persecutor of oppressors. She murdered the slavers of Astapor, she crucified hundreds of Meereenese nobles, she burned alive the Dothraki Khals — all these were evil people, Tyrion reminds us, and we, the audience, could not help but celebrate their suffering as it was just dessert for the suffering they inflicted on innocents. This moral zeal nourished her. This uprightness confirmed her mission as liberator. It justified in her mind the slaughtering of countless innocents — so long as it is for the greater good.

“Do you think I’m the last man she’ll execute?” Tyrion asks Jon soberly. “That is her decision. She is the queen,” Jon offers meekly in reply.

Yet Jon knows Tyrion is right, and that Daenerys is on a path that will invariably lead to more bloodshed.

Jon confronts Daenerys in the following scene, angrily demanding to know why she would order the execution of prisoners of war after the war had been won.

“It was necessary,” Daenerys quietly replies. Jon continues to plead on behalf of the men, women, and children burned alive by Daenerys’ attack.

“[Cersei, the queen of King’s Landing and Daenerys’ enemy] tried to use their innocence against me. She thought it would cripple me,” Daenerys rationalizes.

Jon continues to plea on behalf of Tyrion, who faces execution for treason.

“We can’t hide behind small mercies,” Daenerys resolves. “The world we need won’t be built by men loyal to the world we have… It’s not easy to see something that’s never been before. A good world.”

“How do you know it’ll be good?”

“Because I know what is good,” Daenerys affirms.

“What about everyone else?” questions Jon earnestly. “All the other people who think they know what’s good?”

“They don’t get to choose,” states Daenerys flatly.

Moments later, in a consequential calculation of his own — choosing to kill the Dragon Queen in order to save millions of innocents in the future — Jon drives a dagger through Daenerys’ heart amidst a passionate kiss, killing her.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Whoever fights monsters should see… that in the process he does not become a monster. If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us, the line between good and evil runs through the heart of every person — and a just cause is the most seductive nourishment of baser parts of our souls… of the abyss within.

The Secret Behind the Success of Avengers Endgame

Avenger’s Endgame became the highest grossing opening weekend in film history. Its opening weekend shattered expectations by grossing an estimated $350 million in the US alone, and over $1 billion globally. Endgame is the most successful of the twenty-two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) series, which is, in turn, the most prosperous film franchise in history.

But why? What is the secret behind the success of both Endgame, and the rest of the MCU series? There are many reasons, but one important answer lies in the way the films taps into our deep and abiding human desire for stories, which we need to inspire us, to help us understand who we are, and to appreciate our place in the world. In fact, while it is widely known that MCU characters originated in comic books, fewer may realize that most of the superheros in Endgame and the series have familiar precedents in folklore from different times and places.

Take, for example, Captain America, a hero of superhuman strength and intelligence defined by love and service to his county. He descended into a mound of ice in order to save the nation after stopping the Red Skull from using the Tesseract—and then was eventually found again and was awoken and emerged right before Avengers. This “savior in the mountain” trope is well-known in folklore. There are many examples from different places and cultures, including the legends of Frederick Barbarossa, Ogier the Dane, Charlemagne, Sebastian of Portugal, and of course King Arthur, of the Knights of the Round Table fame.

Consider Thor, the hammer-wielding, hirsute god of sky and thunder in the MCU series. Thor is a hero based on an actual figure from Norse mythology, preserved by the 13th century Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson. The Thor of Scandinavian folklore, similar to the Thor of MCU, is mercurial and prone to outbursts of emotion. Similarly to MCU, Thor of the past is the son of Odin—god of war and the father of all other gods—and his status and strength as a god positions him to defend the just from evil, but he frequently foils his own efforts by his personal shortcomings. (These traits are also found in Hercules from Greek and Roman mythology, the son of Zeus with god-like status and strength and who also is constantly tripped up by his own shortcomings.)

Lastly, think about Iron Man—the self-made man whose only real power is his wealth, intellect, and resourcefulness. Students of Middle Eastern mythology will note the similarities between Tony Stark and Sinbad the Sailor, a recurring character in Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights.

The wily Sinbad is constantly finding himself in unfavorable circumstances from which he must extricate himself in elaborate and imaginative ways. Sinbad is, in many ways, the original MacGyver—and Iron Man carries that torch today. (These traits of Iron Man and Sinbad—as well as the vanity and propensity for self-indulgence they each possess— parallel similar characteristics shared also by Odysseys in Homer’s Odyssey in Greek mythology).

Probing why we are drawn to the heroes of the Avengers series tells us much about ourselves. Examining our affections highlight what we value, both as individuals and as a culture, and how we view ourselves. For example, Captain America, whose creators at one point wanted to call him “Super American,” elevates sacrifice and honor over personal gain—noble goals that we value in America.

Thor’s strengths are at times undermined by his weaknesses, reminding us that often the greatest enemy is the enemy within us, cautioning us to be aware of our own shortcomings. Iron Man in many ways embodies the American “bootstrap” mythology of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency—but also the cautions of the way that individualism can devolve into solipsism. Similarly, Iron Man is the leader of the superheroes of MCU, but doesn’t actually have any super powers. What better way to valorize the utility of a steel will and intellect, as we do in America?

Every society needs heroes. Their weaknesses encourage us to improve our own, and their strength and achievement inspire us. Across time and place, people have been engrossed by the hero’s journey—and our own era is no exception. We are drawn to their struggle to overcome adversity and embrace their destiny, despaired by their seemingly final failure, and electrified by their ultimate victory of good over evil.

Such hero stories are a way of answering the metaphysical questions that people across time have pondered—questions of origin, purpose and density. The fact that heroes are so like us—capable of good and evil, greatness and folly—comforts us to confront our own challenges. These figures and stories of other times and places live on in the form of superheroes today, infusing our lives with meaning and purpose. These stories hold kernels of truth about the human condition that transcend place and era, and for this reason are worth studying in both our own cultural contexts and others.

Freud once said Rome was a palimpsest—an organic place with many layers of history and textures of meaning. The same, we now know, can be said of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which ensures that heroic archetypes of old live on to still influence, instruct, and inspire us today.

Louis XIV Invented the Faux Etiquette of Political Correctness

Ball State University’s Bias Response Team (BRT) is one of many proliferating on college campuses across the country. Unlike some other BRTs, this office has no disciplinary authority. But such agencies do not need teeth to exert control over college social environments. Authoritarians of old understood that policing norms was a far more effective tool for social control than traditional, overtly coercive forms of power.

The website of the Ball State’s Multicultural Center, houses the BRT, encourages students to “report incidents of bias immediately.” But what is “bias”? In theory, bias is fairly black and white: “a behavior or act—verbal, written, or physical—that is personally directed against or targets an individual or group based on any of the following characteristics (race, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief, ethnic origin, etc.), perceived or actual.”

In practice, discerning bias is far murkier, because whether or not the bias incident occurs turns on the subjective impressions of the victim. As the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in response to concerns regarding the University of Michigan’s BRT, these murky definitions give “‘unrestricted delegation of power’ to University officials… opening the risk of ‘arbitrary, discriminatory and overzealous enforcement.’”

Consolidating Power

DOJ was warning against the abuse of power by bureaucrats at the University of Michigan, but their words just as aptly describe Louis XIV, whose talent for consolidating power by policing social norms made him Europe’s longest-ruling monarch. When Louis was a child, France’s aristocrats revolted against his father; he thereafter resolved to keep his courtiers—and the rest of France—firmly under his control. He built Versailles, to which he moved the courtiers from Paris, and created an elaborate network of protocol and codes of conduct that everyone upheld—lest, god forbid, they offend the King and lose his favor.

An uttering oft attributed to Louis—l’état, c’est moi, or I am the state—encapsulates Louis’ control of Versailles. As our solar system revolves around the sun, virtually every aspect of life at Versailles centered around the Sun King, dictated by his mercurial tastes, preferences, and predilections. There were rules about how to let someone know you were at the door (by scratching the door with your fingernails—never by knocking!), who could sit down (only women, and only at night), and when it was appropriate to express emotion (only after the King did first).

Please the King

Nobles fought for the chance to attend lever and coucher, the extravagant royal getting-up and going-to-bed ceremonies. There were rules for bowing and hat tipping, dictated according to rank. Louis required courtiers to wear the Robe de Cour when around him, which meant keeping expensive wardrobes—especially for the women. This both pleased Louis’ ever-changing aesthetic sensibility and controlled his courtiers—by keeping them indebted to him. Only nobles—both men and women—of the right bloodline could don a set of coveted red high heels, a favorite of the King’s centuries before Christian Louboutin. Indeed, the rules were so elaborate that the King erected little signs—étiquettes—across Versailles to remind his courtiers what he expected of them.

In comparison to today, where appropriate speech and conduct is often dictated by the most sensitive spirit in the room, Louis’ étiquettes which explicitly stated social expectations seem a great generosity. However, despite étiquettes, rules at Versailles were always changing. Then, however, courtiers had only to predict and work around the preferences of one mercurial tyrant. Today, the authoritarians are legion—and also just as unforgiving.

Spies Everywhere

The existence of a Bias Response Team invariably has a chilling effect on people’s interactions, as it promotes a culture of people constantly and vigilantly on the lookout for bias infraction, and the office’s very existence—and the omnipresent campus posters asking, “Have you been a victim of bias?”—indulges America’s offense culture.

This is reminiscent of Louis XIV himself who, according to the memoirs of one courtier Duc de Saint Simon, “always took great pains to find out what was going on in public places, in society, in private houses, even family secrets, and maintained an immense number of spies and tale-bearers.”

When Louis observed an infraction by a member of his nobility, punishment was swift: the penalty courtiers most feared was that the King would choose not to “see” them, or ignore them as if they did not exist. Such social exclusion from the king’s favor was a fate worse than death. On college campuses across the nation, BRTs are empowering students to exert social control over fearful courtiers—today’s peers and faculty. All must comply with their fragilities, lest they be branded “intolerant” or “prejudiced.”

Today, as it was in Louis’ court, knowledge of the rules and language that is “proper” is a sign of being among the elite. However, nothing about using politically correct language in order to appear “unbiased” and “inclusive” is inherently virtuous. Samuel Johnson’s definition of “mouth-honour,” originally used by Macbeth, aptly describes the problem: “civility outwardly expressed without sincerity.”

People of good faith of all political stripes recognize that there is no usefulness to being unnecessarily offensive and rude, but it is also wrong to assume the worst about someone’s “biased” words or actions.

In his influential two-volume study of norms across cultures, German sociologist Norbert Elias claimed that all things we consider “civil” find their origins in the courts of royalty. In America, we threw off the monarchical yoke in favor of the rule of the many. In a democracy, it is said that every citizen’s a king—though erecting norms that turn on the subjective impression of a few are a recipe for despotism.

Remember the Good that Social Media has Achieved

It’s the popular and fashionable thing to do these days — on both the political Left and Right — to name, shame, and blame the social media giants for the death of American democracy.

The Left, still smarting from Donald Trump’s stunning victory in 2016, emphasizes the way in which social media sites — primarily Facebook — leave us susceptible to foreign tampering in elections. Senator Dianne Feinstein made news when she threatened Mark Zuckerberg during a November 2017 congressional hearing: “You have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will.”

The Right, ever ready to decry the persecution of conservative voices, criticizes social media giants — primarily Twitter — for banning right-of-center figures from their platforms. To some conservatives, these bans show tech giants’ undue influence over our public discourse. Republican Senator Josh Hawley, for example, is currently leading the charge for antitrust legislation to break up big social media firms.

But what is popular and fashionable isn’t always right.

Social media companies have certainly made mistakes worth criticizing: failing to anticipate foreign intervention in America’s democratic process; censoring people with “dangerous” ideas (a dubious phrase whose troubling historical antecedents I’ve previously pointed out); providing inadequate transparency and protections around users’ personal data; and facilitating the spread of false information that invariably contributes to a decline in trust in our major institutions.

Yet to judge and condemn social media companies as categorically bad for democracy — let alone to pursue knee-jerk legislative plans to handicap and punish them — is wrong. The problems with social media are only half the story.

In his forthcoming Human Liberty 2.0, Matthew Daniels, a researcher at the Institute for World Politics, makes a compelling case for seeing social media as essential to democratic movements across the world and as a powerful tool for pushing autocratic regimes to recognize basic human rights.

Daniels tells the stories of people who have stood up to dictatorial and oppressive regimes. He describes the efforts of courageous activists who brought political and social change to their home country and affected lives across the world as social media shared their stories to millions of supporters.

“Today,” Daniels writes, “we are witnessing the extraordinary convergence of two breakthroughs at the same time: The advancement of universal rights in the hands of a digital generation using the World Wide Web. This is a convergence with vast potential to unleash human creativity and compassion. But the interconnectedness of the Digital Age also carries responsibilities for each of us.”

As much as the pundit class of today enjoys blaming social media for America’s ills, it is worth remembering that over one-fifth of the world has no access to Facebook or Twitter; the “Great Firewall of China” prevents the entire country from accessing the sites. There is a reason for this of course: authoritarian regimes don’t like free expression. Social media affords expression in unprecedented ways, and has often been used for good.

Emancipation through Information

Take the story of Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman whose life changed dramatically after she posted on YouTube a video of herself driving. Daniels tells us how Sharif received praise and death threats in near-equal measure after posting her video, and how she was quickly imprisoned by the Saudi government for being a “threat to the social order.” Sharif spent nine days in prison for her purported crime, and her family endured sermons from their local imam describing women like Sharif as “prostitutes.” She was condemned as a traitor and a blasphemer, but her experience inspired her: “I am a proud Saudi women who loves my country,” Sharif said, “and because I love my country, I am doing this. I believe a society will not be free until women are free.”

Sharif, who had been raised in the West, couldn’t understand the ban on women driving; there was nothing in the sacred texts of Islam that prevented it. Her video went viral immediately after she posted it, but it wasn’t until she was released from jail that she realized the full impact of her video. The free world lauded Sharif as the “Saudi Rosa Parks,” and she was overwhelmed at the outpouring of support form strangers on Twitter and Facebook she had never met.

Her act of defiance and courage — which social media rapidly shared across Saudi Arabia and much of the Muslim world — started a long-overdue conversation, Daniels argues. She gave a voice to other activists who had long been supressed and ignored in the same cause. Her act inspired other women to do the same, and drew attention to other human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. She is even is credited with the ultimate end of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, which occurred six years after she posted her video.

Social media was a tool to move the bar toward justice and human rights in the correct direction — but, Daniels notes, the work in Saudi Arabia and beyond is far from complete.

The Centrality of Human Agency

Daniels writes of the purpose of Human Liberty 2.0, “This book series celebrates those whose lives embody a rising global awareness of our common humanity and a desire to promote the fundamental rights and well-being of other human beings.”

Just as some today choose to use social media to perpetuate lies, harass people they disagree with, and sow discord — uses we are all intimately familiar with — there are also those that use it for good, as Manal al-Sharif did to promote women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

The story of Tay the Twitter bot illustrates this important point about technology’s use for good or ill. While a true story, it is also a metaphor for the role of human agency in social media’s uses and abuses.

Tay had a lifespan of about 16 hours.

The interaction of Tay, a Microsoft excursion into the world of artificial intelligence, with Twitter users began on a rather benign note, declaring an utter love of humanity.

In less than 24 hours, it began tweeting sexist, racist, anti-Semitic spew.

Microsoft’s response was to first delete Tay, and then blame Tay’s conduct on online trolls, complaining of a “coordinated effort” against the poor little bot. Tay, like any simple machine, merely put out what was put in: Tay directly mirrored the language that it gleaned from engaging with people.

Microsoft blamed Tay’s troubling tweets on the bigoted users that engaged with the bot. And they were right. Many blame social media platforms for many of our modern tragic societal ills — cyberbullying, wreaking havoc on our mental health, and increased polarization — but it is important to hold accountable the person behind the screen, as much as the screen itself.

Indeed, technology and social media are neither wholly panacea nor plague.

Technology as a Tool

“Technology is morally neutral,” Daniels notes early in his book. “It can be used for good or evil. At a certain dosage, drugs alleviate pain and cure illness.”

In this statement, Daniels echoes Melvin Kranzberg, a famed historian of technology who has maintained a skepticism of the “technological determinism” that has long been en vogue. Kranzberg’s First Law is “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” In saying technology isn’t “neutral,” he means that it invariably affects our lives.

It is always popular to tell people that the problems they’re facing aren’t their fault. It is easy to blame soulless gadgets and faceless corporations. But casting social media as the cause of the problems facing us today gives technology too much autonomy — and humanity too little.

Kranzberg anticipated most criticisms of social media today: “Many of our technology-related problems arise because of the unforeseen consequences when apparently benign technologies are employed on a massive scale.”

We tend to rapidly adopt new technologies without putting sufficient thought into the consequences of our unalloyed embrace. Our technology-related problems occur because of the unseen consequences of seemingly benign tools.

As Albert Jay Nock wrote, “Our general tendency is to accept it [a new technology] at once without question as a good thing, not considering that its whole value is to be measured by its effect upon the spirit and quality of life, and that until this effect be ascertained our estimate of it is worthless and misleading.”

We’ve come full circle from embracing the new social media platforms as tools of fostering a more connected, democratic, and enlightened world, to blaming them for the end of civilization as we know it. In 2011, social media was praised as a boon to democracy for its role in helping citizens in autocratic regimes organize and hold their governments accountable. The Arab Spring would not have happened without social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as Daniels notes in his book.

Yet today, it’s nearly impossible to find public figures coming to the defense of tech giants.

Daniels’ aim is to consider the good of social media alongside the ill, and this balanced perspective is essential for a full and accurate picture of what this new technology has wrought. He writes, “Human Liberty 2.0 is the remarkable, inspirational stories of how courageous social media pioneers are advancing democracy and calling attention to the plight of people in some of the most oppressive countries.”

In highlighting dozens of other remarkable and oft-neglected stories like Manal al-Sharif’s, Daniels encourages readers to consider an oft-neglected perspective: that technology is often as much about the person who uses it as the technology itself. This moral agency he reminds us of revives a moral urgency: while the problem around us when it comes to our fragmented public discourse seems insurmountable, we also each have a role in being a part of the solution.

For reminding us of this other side of the story, and reviving our individual moral responsibility, we owe Daniels a debt of gratitude.