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The middle path; somewhere between humility and dharma

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posted on Dec, 21 2005 @ 11:52 PM
I am a carpenter in an era of junk construction. I have over the past several years made decisions about the type of work I will do because I find certain jobs to be unethical. Being self-employed I can make this decision on the fly each time I give an estimate. Lately, I have refused all work except where unpainted solid lumber is to be used. I am also refusing any work below 30 ft of sea level or in flood prone areas.

Some examples of the type of work I have recently refused:

Plywood construction... plywood contains formaldehyde and I refuse to expose myself or my employees to fermaldehyde laden sawdust so that a customer can have an inexpensive alternative to solid wood. I no longer take jobs involving oriented strand board or exterior plywood. Aside from the formaldehyde both products are garbage the first time they get wet; and as we all know... everything eventually gets wet. The other thing about plywood that really grates on me is that if it attached to a solid timber and does get wet, it will hold the moisture next to the timber and rot the solid lumber out as well.

Beach work... I have watched homes that I have worked on slip into the sea, my work on them lost to memory. I feel doing such work only wasted my valuable time hear on earh. As well paying as a crown moulding job at the beach may be, there are people that need help inland on stable ground.

Sheetrock... many carpenters supplement their incomes with sheetrock work because the skills needed often overlap. Personally, I think sheetrock is a junk-construction illusion. I have torn many a dumpster load of sheetrock out of storm damaged houses; just to watch crews come in and re-rock the whole home. It all goes wastefully to the landfill. Though I am very good with sheetrock, I no longer want anything to do with the product.

I believe it is my dharma (religious duty) to see to it that the homes I work in are more than just an illusion. I choose to work in solid wood and stone for this reason.

My adherence to this ethic however, has recently been tried several times by repeat customers, family, and friends.

First my grandmothers roof leaks... a small patch of her sheetrock ceiling is water damaged. She gets the roof fixed and is left with a nasty water spot and a big crack in her ceiling. I fix it. Get'er done... Gram is on a fixed income... Suck it up ethics aside work for gram for free. (she stuffs a $100 bill into my pocket when its all done)

Then its mom and dads house... Dad installs some trim moulding and does a so-so job of it. Mom wants her son the trim carpenter to come and make everything better. Well... mom and dad live in a junk-construction 2004 vinyl siding and plywood McMansion. Even the floor joists are made of strand board. The first time a roof leaks... Insurance check and dumpster. So, what do I do? Pushed the ethics aside. I re-do the moulding... make mom happy... she did give birth to me.

Mom stuffed some cash into my pocket too... but I did not feel right about doing either job regardless of how happy it made my family.

Then I get a repeat customer that wants a big plywood box to store yard tools. I get the impression her budget is around $250. I let her know that I do not work in plywood, especially in wet locations, and that a solid wood box, the size requested would be around $450. She gives me the ok. I build the box exactly to her specifications and deliver it. When I get there she loves the box and pays me accordingly... since then however, this otherwise great customer has had me come back to modify the box twice for without pay. She's obviously not happy about the price and holds it over my head. On an hourly level, building the box has been by far the least I have been paid since first working for her. I feel by holding my ethical grouds I was left working too hard for too little and she feels coerced into buyingn more than she wanted.

Then Katrina hit. A close friend had several family members living in New Orleans. Their homes recieved plenty of damage. Knowing I am a construction worker my friend asks me to travel out there to help fix their homes. He'll compensate me for my time, but his family really needs my help. I bow out. He knows of my ethic about coastal construction and accepts but is obviously hurt.

Now I am dealing with a new decision. My fiancee's folks remodeled their bathroom 3 years ago and never quite finished. Sheetrock work. Erg. Guess who has been asked to help? All parties know I am a quite capable rocker that could knock out the little bathroom in 2 days without breaking a sweat. Then to make matters worse... reviewing satelite images the other week showed that their home is located in the middle of a canal-drained swamp just 9 feet above sea level in hurricane prone south Florida. Anyone else and they would be on the "sorry.... can't take the job for ethical reasons." list. My fiancee helped me work on my parents house last year and thinks it is only fair I help on her parents.

boardering on rant here... but It just kills me building things in a flood zone, especially out of sheetrock. It goes against reason. Even if they intend to sell the home... am I not acting sinfully by creating a false sense of security for the would be buyer? Am I not supposed to stand up for principles?

Searching for truth... I ran across this quote this evening from "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Yogananda:

As I wandered amidst the throng of monks and sadhus that had come from great distances to attend the holy festival, I noticed an ash-smeared ascetic who was holding a begging bowl. The thought arose in my mind that the man was hypocritical, wearing the outward symbols of renunciation without a corresponding inward grace. No sooner had I passed the ascetic than my astouned eye fell on [my spiritual guru] Babaji. He was kneeling in front of a matted haired anchorite. Guruji! I hastened to his side... Sir what are you doing here? "I am washing the feet of this renunciant and then I shall clean his cooking utensils." Babaji smiled at me like a little child; I knew he as intimating that he wanted me to criticize no one, but to see the Lord as residing equally in all body-temples, whether superior or inferior men.

The great guru added, "By serving wise and ignorant sadhus, I am learning the greatest of virtues, pleasing God above all others - humility."


Up until reading that passage I was inclined to turn away the work at my fiancee's parents' house. It is flood zone sheetrock work. Right up there with feeding children a diet of candy. Unethical. And now that verse says to me I am to serve the "inferior man" with humility.


Sri Oracle

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