I have been surprised by many things at DHDC, including but not limited to: the wide variety of backgrounds among my coworkers, the vibrance of Southwest Detroit, the fact that my Spanish isn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be, and office drama. The office drama is definitely the most puzzling aspect for me; there always seems to be tension among some coworkers, feuds between departments, gossip, and general mistrust floating around. At DHDC, there is a huge emphasis on “chain of command” and reporting problems or issues only to your immediate supervisor, and then that supervisor reporting those issues on your behalf to higher-ups. However, the chain of command is often disregarding and it translates (in some eyes) to a lack of respect. As an outsider, it was quite a bit to take in as my coworkers would open up to me about the drama more and more each day.
For awhile, I thought I was the only person at the agency who was troubled by this. After all, wasn’t everyone working together for the same root purpose: to provide services to Southwest Detroit (and it’s primarily Latino population)? Or, for most of the workers at DHDC, to give what they can back to the community that raised them? I thought this would provide a sense of unity and cohesion among coworkers, especially considering the fact that Southwest Detroit is so close to begin with. I couldn’t figure out why this would actually lead to such gaping divides among coworkers and programs at the same agency.
After about a month of working at DHDC, the executive director sent out an all-staff email with an article titled, “The Non-Profit Paradox.” The article laid an argument for a paradox that the author claimed was visible within all non-profits: a tendency to mirror the problems of the community the non-profit seeks to help. Although I’m not sure if there is any research to back this up, the article immediately struck a chord with me and I began to see a lot of the characteristics of our clients and participants mirrored in my coworkers. At the staff meeting that Friday, everyone made a list of their own values and reasons for working at DHDC, and then a paradox that went along with it.
For example, many of my coworkers said they valued empowering children or early childhood education. The contradiction they found was that many at the agency did not seem to value the people who worked in the youth department and with kids all day and possibly thought it wasn’t a “real job.” Another value was providing a better education and opportunities for their children (the overwhelming majority of my coworkers have families) but looking down upon those in the agency without degrees or GEDs, despite their lack of resources as well. The list went on and on. Not only was it interesting to lay these problems out in the open, but I think it was healing for many people. Not to say that the problems were immediately gone, because they weren’t. But everyone was finally able to clearly see them and be more conscious of respecting others.
I can’t say with certainty if a non-profit paradox exists within every non-profit. But it certainly is an interesting reflection on human nature, and something to consider if I do choose to pursue non-profit work again.