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FIELD NOTES: The Cost of Good Soul

A grocery store near my house employs a man with a medical condition similar to that which afflicted Stephen Hawking. He uses a motorized wheelchair, is unable to move much more than his fingers, and is unable to speak. He is typically positioned near the entrance, at a table with product samples, and invites everyone entering the store to try one in his computer-generated voice. Many businesses employ persons with physical or developmental issues, and we should commend them for that, but it feels like this store is going above and beyond.

Such compassion comes at a price, though. A second employee is stationed nearby to replenish the samples and make sure nothing goes wrong. The store is paying two employees to do a task that is not strictly essential to begin with. 

I know there are grants available for businesses who hire people with impairments and that there is likely a positive word-of-mouth "marketing" aspect to such a hire. Still, it is doubtful this was a business decision. The store almost certainly employs this man because they believe it is the right thing to do.   

My first college business class was "Introduction to Accounting." On the first day, the professor reviewed some basic terminology that would be essential to understanding the curriculum. I dutifully wrote down everything he said: allocation, cash flow, debits, credits, depreciation, and the cost of good soul. 

I did not come from a business background. My father was a loading dock foreman, and my mother was a school cafeteria worker, so I could perhaps be forgiven for not realizing the profound spiritual element that underpinned business finance. For a brief minute, I imagined the "cost of good soul" to be the expense associated with the business doing the right thing and acting in a morally responsible way. That illusion was shattered moments later when the professor clarified that the term was actually "cost of goods sold" and had nothing to do with right and wrong.     

Major corporations operate on a scale nearly incomprehensible to the average person, and the news is frequently filled with accounts of corporate misdeeds and hubris. Banks are fined billions of dollars for questionable business practices with little to no impact on their bottom line. Elon Musk casually strokes a check for $44 billion to acquire Twitter, then suffers buyer's remorse and just as casually cancels it. A tech CEO callously fires hundreds of employees on Zoom call. It's nice to be reminded now and then that some corporations still have a soul and are willing to pay the cost.  

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