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The parable of the small pie
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 12/21/2009

Apple pie Not so long ago, in a village quite like yours, there was considerable excitement. The first day of October was fast approaching. And as everyone knows, October 1st is Pie Day. That is the special time each year that everyone in the village would get a chance to enjoy a slice of the Pie.

As long as anyone could remember, the Pie was always large and delicious. Anyone who wanted could have their fill. But this year would be different. There would be a very small pie. Everyone wondered if they would get a large enough slice to meet their needs. Some others wondered if anyone but a select few would get anything at all.

How could this come to pass? Most could point to three reasons:
  • The harvest was really not so good. In fact, it was the worst fall on record. Even the Village Elders could not remember such a grim time;
  • The benevolent and generous Greater Kingdom had some other obligations, both at home and abroad. The assistance that normally came from the Greater Kingdom would not come in time for this Pie Day;
  • There were many needy people in the village – more than anyone could ever remember. Part of the harvest was used to keep many unfortunates from starving.

All through September, the entire village kept their eyes and ears open for news. There were some who wished for the best and prepared for the worst. Others threw their hands in the air and tightened their belts. A few (though with loud, angry voices) seemed almost pleased that their dire predictions were about to be realized.

The Village Leader knew of the anxiety of her people. She worked late into the night with the Baker, the Cooks, the Planners, and the Distribution Staff. The work was not without argument. Some thought that there was too much of an emphasis on fancy ingredients. Others felt that a pie with sub-standard filling was simply an exercise in emptiness. And many, from the experienced to the novices chattered about the good old days and the Pies of their parents.

In the Village Square on Pie Day, as the autumn sun struggled to illuminate a crowd shrouded in a pall of negativity, the Village Leader boldly strode up to the podium. She had some hard words to deliver. As a leader, she knew that she had to do what was best for the village.

The rhythmic murmur ceased. As she assessed the crowd, the tension grew. Time seemed to slow and even reverse. All in attendance wondered if they would have to sacrifice more. The question on everyone’s mind was “Who is necessary and what can be considered wasteful?” Everyone asked silently if they would get a slice of The Pie….

Many times that the budgetary pie is cut, there is little tension. However, there are certain years that we are literally on the edge of our seats, uncertain about our personal futures.

Certainly, we cannot hope to fully explore and solve the challenges of budgetary issues in a short parable. However, we can begin to understand the feelings that surround such events. We can address parts of the problem as individuals.

Stress management is always a key to maintaining a healthy, productive work place. And mitigating budgetary rumors is major component in tempering the anxious atmosphere. All staff have the responsibility to keep malicious rumors to a minimum. True, we will all speculate. That is often a useful coping mechanism. However, theories have a way of growing beyond the wildest dreams of the author. Yet, it is very easy to preface with a phrase like, “Now, this is not confirmed….” or “This is just an opinion…”

It is also important for leaders, de facto and de jure, to transmit true information in a calm and factual manner. If false hope is rendered, it could the set up for a horrible reaction when the true bad news falls. Certainly, no one but the malevolent likes to give bad news. But in the long run, we need to know that possible outcomes so that we can prepare.

Corrections is not unique in scraping fewer resources to perform the service to the public. It can be argued that corrections staff have the most stressful jobs in any “village”. To say otherwise is unrealistic. Doing more with less in a very dangerous sector is, at the very least, vexing. But with a judicious amount of rumor control mixed with wise information dissemination, some of the anxiety of a smaller pie can be lessened.

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