Relationships in a World of Individualism

  • rWorld

    The rWorld is about more than Dale Kuehne's book Sex and the iWorld.
    The rWorld is a New England based, non-profit (in formation), that is composed of a growing number of people and organizations from many faith and ideological backgrounds worldwide. We believe that much of the fulfillment for which women and men are looking can be found by enhancing the quality of our relationships. While the individual freedom we enjoy in the West is a gift, the love and intimacy for which humans yearn will not be found in self-serving materialism or hedonism, but in a variety of healthy relationships.

    Contact us if you'd like get involved:

  • Dale Kuehne

    Sex & the iWorld

    Professor of Politics and The Richard L. Bready Chair for Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH.

    In this blog I'm highlighting signposts of the world in which we presently reside as a means of helping promote a civil, and meaningful dialogue about what kind of world in which we wish to live. I am particularly interested in exploring how might we reconcile the individual good and the common good, and where reconciliation isn’t possible, which should take precedence and why.

    I also blog at

    [Content Caution]

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rLiving 12: Oily Subcontractors (Purpose/Continuity)

Posted by Simon on December 14, 2010

Back in the middle of the year, furious fingers were pointing at BP for the hideous gloop that infected the Gulf of Mexico. One jabbing finger was at the fact that BP let go ALL of its experts and engineers and entrusted subcontractors. This, according to Tom Bower, author of Oil: Money, Politics and Power in the 21st Centrury (on Here and Now– on my local National Public Radio station, WBUR this lunchtime).

Under the leadership of John Brown, who took over as CEO in the 80’s, BP went from a money-losing company to No. 2 in the world. How? “More for less!”. As Bower put it, “let’s get 100% by paying 90%”; subcontracting caused profits to skyrocket.

Relational Proximity Dimension #5 is Purpose/Commonality: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity. A good relationship has a direction to it, something that is common between the members that holds it together.

This story is ostensibly about trust, but I propose that trust comes, in part, from a sense of common purpose, a sense that the parties involved have a stake in something together. Trust also comes from an expectation of future partnership. Is there enough common purpose (beyond $$) with your subcontractors, and enough shared vision and stake in the future, to enable trust, accountability and a fruitful, creative relationship?

The two main subcontractors involved in this oil spill were Transocean (responsible for the rig and drilling) and Halliburton (the cement casing). The argument at the time appeared appeared to be what BP knew or told Halliburton about drilling depth, which makes a difference to the type of concrete used. [Did you know they’re drilling 6 miles down?!]. The argument also increasingly turned against regulators.

Who’s watching? Interestingly, both BP and Exxonmobil use these subcontractors. A difference is that ExxonMobil retain an army of experts and engineers to ‘second-guess’ (as Bower puts it) everything Transocean and Halliburton do. As I would interpret that; they double-, triple-check everything the subcontractors do, therefore maintaining their standards and maintaining accountability. BP, however, leave the subcontractors to it. In other words, they trust them. Or you could say, the subcontractors trusted BP for the right information. And what of the regulators? Who do they trust? Who do we trust?

Comparing subcontractor relationships I’m curious to know what the relationship is like between ExxonMobil’s engineers and the subcontractor engineers, and what kind of productivity and safety performance they achieve. People scream for regulators (while they also scream for infinite freedom for themselves), but potentially there’s a perfect relationship there, working fine without the need for underpaid, under-qualified (according to Bower) regulators. A comparison between BP’s subcontractor relationships and ExxonMobil’s would be illuminating, I think: shared ownership? shared risk? not just shared profit? Similarly with continuity: is there a future-vision? Not just asking if the contract will be renewed, but do they have a creative vision for the future together?

Anger at “BP” or “Regulators” was understandable even though they’re made of people (or, People, who surely are to be trusted!?). Anger against subcontractors in general is less understandable, unless you’re a cynic. But I think a relational proximity analysis between entities involved in the creative, productive work, would be reveal a more hopeful path of trust AND accountability than just blame and more external regulation.

[See the introduction for the background to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.]


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