A few weeks ago I had a staff writer for the Best Buy communications department reach out to me about writing a story detailing my educational journey over the past few years. I’ve posted about it on Facebook before, but for those who don’t know I completed my Bachelor’s and got my MBA; both on full-ride scholarships I was awarded by Capella University in partnership with Best Buy.

I didn’t think much about it when I gave the interview, but the response has been overwhelming. Beyond the likes on social media have been tons of comments, texts, phone calls, and other ways folks have reached out. It is a very foreign feeling being told that you have inspired someone, especially someone you’ve never met.  It has been even more jarring to be told I am an inspiration by individuals upon whom I have cast reverence and awe, leaders I aspire to imitate one day.

This has had me thinking lately about the ways that each of us has the ability to inspire others.  One of my driving forces in continuing my education was inspiring Bennett to one day follow my example.  If there can be an unintended ripple effect with that seemingly simple goal, we can all seek to find opportunities to create ripples in our own spheres of influence.  You are more inspirational than you believe possible, and have more people watching than you know.  Tell the stories of your big triumphs and your small victories – you never know who needs a subtle reminder of what they, themselves, are capable of accomplishing.

Best Buy employee earns 2 degrees thanks to education partnership

My addition to the GMO debate

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to converse via Facebook with what can only be described as the “Pro-GMO” lobby – farmers and proponents of big agriculture.  What started with a Facebook post sharing a blog article led to an exchange between myself and the author, Gene Hall, the Public Relations Director of the Texas Farm Bureau.  I reference this exchange specifically because, unlike some others, the debate was intelligent and respectful.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

Of course, as with any two-way discussion on Facebook there is a battle to have the last word.  Ultimately this is not a battle I feel compelled to carry on, and that is the reason for this writing.  I welcome any comments below, but these are my thoughts in a forum more suited for an issue with this level of complexity.

GMO, or genetically modified organisms, are simply not 100% anything.  If you take anything away from this, let it be a sense of cautious optimism mixed with prudent fear of the unknown.  Never trust someone who speaks in absolutes.  Much of this debate is filled with these absolutes: “GMO food is 100% safe!” “GMOs are 100% deadly!”  What foolishness.  Consider this, however:

DDT, a widely used chemical pesticide in the 40’s and 50’s, was proclaimed completely safe by its proponents.  In fact, the scientist who discovered its use as an insecticide was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.  It was not until 1972 that the US Government banned the use of DDT.  This was after 1.35 billion pounds of the toxic chemical was sprayed on US soil, the effects of which are still being realized today.  This is one of many examples that could fill volumes describing how greed and hubris led to a disastrous outcome.  Birth defects, cancer, diabetes, environmental impacts, the list goes on.

Please don’t confuse the above example as a direct correlation to my views on GM foods. The only statement that can be 100% truth is that the jury is out, and won’t be coming back any time in this generation.  There are studies that show both sides of the argument. 

It is worth pointing out that there are many many more studies that point to the safety of the science.  It’s also important to look at why that is, and to do so one must simply follow the money.  GMOs are big business – BIG!  Corn alone, which is 88% GMO is a $24.4 billion dollar industry in the US alone.  What farmer wouldn’t want to get the most output possible?  It’s easy to believe what is convenient and in alignment with your bottom line when your business depends on it.

These farmers are not bad people.  They are not billionaires sitting up in the big house doing high dives into pools of C-notes.  It is my belief that they are good people caught in a situation that they ultimately have little power to avoid, lest they be labeled a charlatan by their peers and persecuted as such.  Enter the villain in the anti-GMO movement – Monsanto.

Monsanto is synonymous with shadow governments, new world orders, and equally “out there” conspiracy theories.  They have even been called the most hated company in the world.  Let’s get that out of the way from the onset.  Monsanto is a publicly traded company, a $50+ Billion dollar behemoth that deals in scientifically advancing the agriculture industry, among other ventures.  One of these ventures is even a non-profit that exists solely to tout the wonders of GMO.  A non-profit funded by a for-profit to advertise how great the for-profit’s product is? Now that’s good business!

Unlike my characterization of farmers as good-hearted people doing what they feel is right, Monsanto is not good.  This is a company that is so against natural and time-tested methods of agriculture that it actually sues farmers who attempt to save seeds to plant the following year.  Why you ask?  Monsanto themselves tell us that it is purely about revenue.  Try making it through this page without cringing.  Does this sound like a company that has your best interest at heart?  Now think about the scientific studies it can fund along with the $2.6 million per day it spends on R&D.  This is about big business.  Follow the money.

In my exchange with pro-GMO folks, it is clear that they want to focus on the science that is available today.  That’s fine.  I’m not saying that we should label anything GMO with a skull and cross bones and tax it like cigarettes.  Nor do I think we should pull it from shelves.  However, don’t feed me claims of feeding a hungry world and point to studies funded illegitimate non-profit organizations that are funded by the industry itself.

US food labels today are required to list every ingredient contained therein along with each macronutrient to the gram per serving.  They breakdown fat into its various forms, separate fiber from other carbohydrates, and tell me how much sugar it has.  In 64 countries across the globe, food labels also tell the consumer if the product contains a genetically modified ingredient.  Unfortunately for the US consumer, however, $27 million dollars was spent in the first six months of 2014 alone in lobbying by pro-GMO groups to keep that snippet of information off the label.  That sure is a lot of genetically modified corn that could be fed to (now) genetically modified cows that are used to create genetically modified CHEDDAR!  Follow the money.

I’ll close with this:  Everyone has an opinion, a feeling, and a belief.  Make sure yours is based on thoughtful consideration of the evidence.  While Mr. Hall was extremely courteous in our exchange, there are voices on both side of this (or any) debate that lack his civility.  Let cooler heads prevail, lest we start sounding like this…

I work retail, and this is how I REALLY feel about opening on Thanksgiving Day.

So let’s get all of what you have likely read/seen in social media out of the way first and foremost.  In today’s culture (yes I’m guilty of it too), we far too often look online to find out what our opinion is before we stop and figure it out for ourselves.  This is, in part, the reason I have waited until mere hours before the day to post my thoughts.  Both the far right and the far left have come out to condemn retailers this year for their opening hours this year, taking away from that precious time we spend with family.  I’m talking from MSN to Fox, George Takei to the NRA.  Everyone and their dog have come out against retail for ruining the fabric of American family values. 

Allow me give you a little n=1 data on what retail has done, specifically for American families.  I have worked retail for the last 12 years.  In fact, it’s the only “real” job I’ve ever had.  It paid for my room and board when I went to school, paid for part of my school in tuition reimbursement, paid off the loans that covered the other part of my tuition, put me in a position to meet my future wife, moved me multiple times as new opportunities presented themselves, taught me how to lead and inspire people, how to truly serve people and the community, and…. well – I have to stop somewhere, although I could continue endlessly.

Beyond all of this, though, my job has taught me this:  Retail is a noble profession.  People need things.  And they need knowledge about those things so they can make informed decisions about what they purchase and how they can get the best out of those things.  People also live busy lives, and while many work 9 to 5’s and Monday through Friday’s – we in retail don’t.  This is part of serving our customers.  When our customers are on spring break, we staff up our stores, put our best folks on the floor, and get ready to serve.  When our customers enjoy a long weekend for labor day, we blow up balloons for appliances.  When our customers snap pictures of their graduates throwing caps in the air, we smile knowing that every click of a shutter is something in which we had a small part.

Now we turn to this, the starting line of the holiday season – Black Friday.  Now through December 24th we will serve more customers than at any other time of the year.  As we strategize around how to provide the best possible service for our customers – putting enthusiastic employees in front of them is high on the list.  The first step, of course, is finding out who wants to work on the day (double-time-and-a-half is a compelling financial benefit).  Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, more want to work than what we have need for.  That’s right – in general we are having more conversations disappointing employees that they CAN’T work on that precious day of turkey and family than we are having conversations disappointing employees that they HAVE TO work.  No social commentary, just statements of fact.

As I turn to our customers, and the conversations I have had with many of them, it has been very interesting.  Of course they have no context to what I have written up to this point in my post.  The average conversations goes something along the lines of:

Customer: “I’m so sorry that you have to work on Thanksgiving, it’s so terrible!”

Me: “It’s ok!  We are here when people want to shop, that’s what we do…”

Customer: “Yeah, I’ll be here.  What time should I get here to make sure I get X product?”

My personal opinion is that for every 100 people who are outraged in the opening time of major national retailers, 95 of them weren’t shopping Black Friday when we opened Friday morning at 8am.  Also, for every 1 that is outraged, 100 are lining up at your local big box store to score the hottest deals.  This is the real reason that Black Friday has crept back year after year until it is on Thursday for nearly every chain.  Retail is a noble profession, one that serves customers, and that includes allowing customers to shop when and where they want.  The fact is that you(the consumer) are the problem, and you aren’t going anywhere – except out and about, drunk on turkey and sides, into the line of a retailer.  But you know what?  I’m ok with that, and I hope you make your way into my line so I can serve you.  That’s what I do.

Now before you either start thinking that we all have giant red crosses on our front doors (no, this isn’t not-for-profit), or that I am just living in some utopia where we all hug and sing kumbayah all day, let me clarify.  We open our doors early to make money.  Lots of money.  As I said earlier, this is the starting line to the marathon of the holiday shopping season.  The term Black Friday, in fact, comes from the idea that retailers run in the red all year until the holiday season begins and we move into the “black” and become profitable for the year.  Let me make a short comment about this:

How has the recession been for you?  Listen to the news lately about the “painfully slow” recovery?  Have any idea about Fed tapering(or not), and why?  I find it near hilarious that so many Americans complain about the economy, yet expect that it is simply time combined with magic that is going to fix it.  No, my friend, it isn’t that at all.  You need to spend money!  Yes, you!  This is an historically short holiday shopping season, with Thanksgiving Day being closer to Christmas than it has been in many many years.  The results from America’s retailers this year is a key indicator of economic recovery.  This influences your 401k balance, your home value, the interest rate on your bank account, and more.  We need to win… you need us to win.

In closing, here is how I look at it:  Scheduling employees to work on Thanksgiving is an easy lightning rod for anyone to latch on to and seem like they are “fighting the good fight”.  The problem is that people want to WORK and people want to SHOP.  Retail is a noble profession that has provided me personally with more than I could have ever asked, and in return I am ready, willing, and able to serve customers on the day. 

I will put in over 40 hours from Turkey day through the weekend – I hope to see you there!