Ari's Top 5
Everywhere the values of freedom, responsibility, and human dignity have to be openly affirmed.

E.F. Schumacher
Black and white photo of a wooden sign painted with the words "Kindness & Dignity lives here". There is a large garden in the background.

Bringing the Revolution of Dignity into our Organizational Ecosystems

Making dignity part of our everyday existence

Everything that follows is, in the context of what is happening in Ukraine, shared in humility—a small bit of my own struggle with how to show up at work every day when the news is filled, as it has been far too many times before, with stories of terrible tragedy being suffered by so many innocent people. In this case, it’s Ukraine; in other instances, it’s been individuals, in other situations still it’s entire groups of people who are attacked. When I read about what’s happening, my mind runs the gamut of emotions from anger, sadness, fear, helplessness, and even hopelessness. When I feel most down, I return to the words of the Dalai Lama, who once offered: “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”

On the surface level, what’s happening right now in Kyiv and Kharkiv might, directly at least, have little to do with our work. Work that, in the context of horrible violence, seems insignificant at best, and in the moment, almost irrelevant. And yet, as has been true with every tragedy that has happened in our 40 years in business, the terrible situation in Ukraine has everything to do with humanity. It’s important for us to keep doing what we do—to provide continuity, care, and service to our community. To continue through the seeming chaos of the world to offer meaningful work and lasting livelihoods to the many hundreds of people who depend on us. Our actions are small, but if enough of us act, the impact is not insignificant; the more we model caring engagement in our own workplaces, the kinder place the world will be. Let’s not wait. I don’t want to find myself saying, as one brave peace protester in Moscow did last week, “We have missed the moment. We are to blame for what is happening. And myself personally.”

If you don’t know the recent history of what’s happening in Ukraine, eight years ago this past month, the Ukrainian people threw out the then Russian-sponsored, illicitly-installed president and, in what quickly came to be known as the Revolution of Dignity, created an open and democratic construct for their country. As I’ve struggled over the last week with what we can do here, I keep coming back to the idea that one of the best, and maybe only, things we can do is to continue to model what it means to work in ways that are the opposite of autocracy, the opposite of violence, the opposite of destruction. Framed more positively, it would be to humbly attempt to show that peace, positive beliefs, kindness, and creativity can really work. To make the way we talk about each other, about ourselves, and about the world around us, into stories that, ​​as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “can repair broken dignity.” In the process, I believe, we can make small Revolutions of Dignity in our organizations right now.

Once upon a time, I majored in Russian history when I was in school at the University of Michigan. Many people have asked me over the years what in the world drew me to study such a seemingly obscure subject. The quick answer was quite simply that I thought it was really interesting. Med school and law school were more of what my family would have preferred; both had the promise of higher income, but I wasn’t very enthused about either. History, on the other hand, fascinated me. That fascination, as you can tell if you read this regularly, remains today. The history of Russia, as I read about all those years ago, has long been dominated by people very much like Vladimir Putin. Author Vladimir Sorokin writes:

In Russia, power is a pyramid. This pyramid was built by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century—an ambitious, brutal tsar overrun by paranoia and a great many other vices. With the help of his personal army … he cruelly and bloodily divided the Russian state into power and people, friend and foe, and the gap between them became the deepest of moats. His [experiences] convinced him that the only way to rule the hugeness of Russia was by becoming an occupier of this enormous zone. The occupying power had to be strong, cruel, unpredictable, and incomprehensible to the people. The people should have no choice but to obey and worship it. And a single person sits at the peak of this dark pyramid, a single person possessing absolute power and a right to all.

What drew me to Russian history though was not its consistent consolidation of power at the top of that pyramid, but rather the courage of the people on the edges who pushed back against it. I wrote my undergraduate thesis at U of M on Soviet dissidents. I studied anarchism, including the Ukrainian anarchist general Nestor Makhno who fought the Bolsheviks at the time of the Russian revolution. I was drawn to the various groups that lost out to the Bolsheviks in the chaotic years after the Tsar stepped down in 1917, and to the study of the ethnic minorities Stalin so harshly persecuted. (Our 40th anniversary, March 15, is also the 105th anniversary of the day in 1917 that the Tsar abdicated.) While my attention went to those on the edge, the main story of Russian history has stayed, sadly, concentrated at the center. Sorokin says:

Paradoxically, the principle of Russian power hasn’t even remotely changed in the last five centuries. I consider this to be our country’s main tragedy. Our medieval pyramid has stood tall for all that time, its surface changing, but never its fundamental form. And it’s always been a single Russian ruler sitting at its peak … Judging by recent events, the idea of restoring the Russian Empire has entirely taken possession of Putin.

Hierarchy and the abuse of power are not of course uniquely Russian issues. Every country, every company, and almost every human (including me) has struggled with power and authority. Handling power with grace, putting it back into the “cultural soil” of a country or a company, is the exception, not the rule. Back in the era in which the leadup to the Russian Revolution was already underway, Emma Goldman wrote, “Those in authority have and always will abuse their power. And the instances when they do not do so are as rare as roses growing on icebergs.” When one person holds all the power—whether it’s a business owner or an autocrat—problems will pretty surely follow for all involved. Sorokin says:

The Pyramid of Power poisons the ruler with absolute authority. It shoots archaic, medieval vibrations into the ruler and his retinue, seeming to say: “you are the masters of a country whose integrity can only be maintained by violence and cruelty; be as opaque as I am, as cruel and unpredictable, everything is allowed to you, you must call forth shock and awe in your population, the people must not understand you, but they must fear you.

The perversity of the Pyramid of Power lies in the fact that he who sits at its peak broadcasts his psychosomatic condition to the country’s entire population. But he’s the one who’s doomed because the world of freedom and democracy is far bigger than his dark and gloomy lair.

Ironically, in a gentler form, the model of governance in Russia was not dissimilar from the typical ways of running modern businesses. The man who started the idea of Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf, identified the same problem as Vladimir Sorokin. Greenleaf says:

To be a lone chief atop a pyramid is abnormal and corrupting. None of us are perfect by ourselves, and all of us need the help and correcting influence of close colleagues. … The pyramidal structure weakens informal links, dries up channels of honest reaction and feedback, and creates limiting chief vs. subordinate relationships which, at the top, can seriously penalize the whole organization.

In their 1994 book, written three years after the fall of the Soviet Union, The End of Bureaucracy and the Rise of the Intelligent Organization (a book that had a huge impact on both me and Paul) Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot remind us, “The bureaucratic organization is structured as a pyramid with an absolute boss on top,” a model, which the Pinchots point out, gives “bosses a monopoly of power over the work lives of their subordinates.” I’m not suggesting that any American business leader—no matter how monopolistic their power might be—is invoking violence in the way that Vladimir Putin is right now. And yet, I know, the urge to consolidate and use power, the tendency to let ego take precedence over the health of the greater ecosystem, is pretty likely present in all of us.

Edith Eva Eger survived the concentration camps during the Holocaust, one of the many other times in history when a person atop a pyramid of power caused enormous destruction and the loss of many millions of lives. Eger went on to become a positive psychologist, author, and inspiring speaker who is still active today at the age of 94. She reminds us: “There is a little Hitler in all of us.” Which means in the moment, that although it’s easy to hate the perpetrator of the violence in Ukraine, there is likely a little piece of Putin—an excess of ego, a desire to take charge and be in control—hidden away in all of us. There’s not a lot any of us can do about Putin, but there is a lot we can do about the latter. There are definitely, I’m not ashamed to admit, many times when I have wanted to just tell everyone what to do. Learning to resist that temptation, and having both systems and personal practices in place that can help keep us from doing it, is the beginning of what can then be further developed into our organizational Revolution of Dignity.

The key is to really make dignity a daily reality; to not just say the right words, but to do the right work, so that dignity is the order of the day for everyone in our organizations. And that when we slip—as we will inevitably do—we can recover with grace, relatively quickly acting to restore whatever dignity was diminished. As Ukrainian poet and musician Serhiy Zhadan says, “History is written, of course, above, but it’s lived below.” So, what then would dignity be in the workplace? Although it will surely continue to evolve, here’s my current thinking:

  1. Honoring the essential humanity of the person we interact with
    Taking time to embrace each person’s past, to learn who they are, to acknowledge their fears and insecurities, and to hear their hopes and dreams. Our work in this sense is to own and encourage everyone’s inherent uniqueness.

  2. Be authentic in our interactions
    A revolution of day-to-day dignity means being real ourselves and also giving everyone we work with the opportunity to be real in a meaningful way as well. (This does not mean unhelpfully dumping one’s feelings onto others in an inappropriate, boundary-ignoring way.)

  3. Having a meaningful say
    Dignity in the day-to-day workplace means we make sure everyone has a meaningful say in what’s going on around them. It means being able to raise one’s hand to raise concerns in a way that can actually influence our decisions.

  4. Begin every interaction with positive beliefs
    Believing the best about everyone even if we’re not happy with what they’re doing or saying. To assume good intent even when work performance may not be up to par. To begin with the belief that even if people aren’t succeeding, they do want to do their best.

  5. A commitment to helping everyone get to greatness
    In this context, honoring authenticity and each person’s unique humanity, each individual then gets to decide what “greatness” means for them. That doesn’t mean everyone can just do what they want, but it does mean that we will have a meaningful conversation about what’s on their minds. If what they see as greatness is aligned with our vision, values, or sense of reality, we can get moving together towards a positive shared future. And if it’s not, we can have a caring conversation in a dignified way from which we can still come away with peaceful, win-win solutions.

  6. Creating some sense of meaningful equity
    I’m not suggesting that we will divide everything equally among everyone. CEOs and new staff who just started work last Saturday may not make the same salary, but still, we can try to balance our ecosystems so that everyone is doing at least ok, and that we’re working to advance everyone’s cause, not just to extract more for people at the top of the pyramid. As physician Paul Farmer, who sadly passed away last month, said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

This focus on dignity, I’ve learned, must be directed inward as well—we need to do for ourselves each of the six items above. Embrace our imperfect humanity, speak our minds constructively, lead and live with positive beliefs, go for greatness in all we do, and engage our own power (as Vladimir Sorokin says: “Everyone in Russia must awaken the citizen within himself.”). If we don’t treat ourselves with dignity, our harsh inner voice will make itself heard by those around us, either through our energy or through our actions.

If—or more accurately, when—we fall short in this work, it would be easy in many places to just ignore the injustice of what has happened. And yet the consequences are more serious than they may seem. Peter Koestenbaum writes, “To destroy the dignity of a human being is evil.” A community in which dignity is both expected and enacted every day will still fall short; but the bad things that happen are a whole lot more likely to be corrected caringly and relatively quickly. After reading the essay I wrote about dignity in “Working Through Hard Times,” my good friend Melvin Parson, who created and leads We the People Opportunity Farm in Ypsilanti, put up the sign you see in the photo above at his farm. And as Melvin does, we will be able to say, “Kindness and Dignity Lives Here.”

We have a good start on all this work, I can see, through the work we already aspire to implement: Servant Leadership, Stewardship, our Courageous Conversations class, our Training Compact, our commitment to diversity, Bottom Line Change®, Lean, Open Book Management, open meetings, consensus decision-making, spreading ownership more widely, learning people’s names, living our 10-4 Rule, and effective energy management all contribute to making a Revolution of Dignity a real-life reality.

Ultimately, it’s up to us. We can create our own organizational Revolutions of Dignity. We can act from humbleness and work for the greater good. Instead of indignation and domination, we can push for inclusion and diversity. Instead of carelessly demeaning a coworker or customer, we can consciously work to make dignity simply what we all do.

Veronika Melkozerova, editor of The New Voice of Ukraine, posted this a few days ago about the terrible attack that Russia has unleashed: 

It’s about more than Ukraine. It’s a contest between democracy and autocracy, freedom and dictatorship, whose implications will scatter across the world. It’s not our fight alone. So please don’t leave us alone to fight it.

I hope and pray that by the time you read this, peace will have returned to Ukraine. And that here at home, where we have far more opportunity to influence our outcomes, that dignity is a bit closer to being reality in every interaction we take. We can work for democracy and dignity, to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 statement that “All labor has dignity” more and more what everyone experiences in our businesses. If we do succeed in making it a reality, these Revolutions of Dignity can spread outwards from our own organizations.

P.S. I mentioned the beautiful music of Sofia Schvager last week. I’m still listening. Sofia emailed me a few days after the Russian attack to say that she is safe, and to share some ways we can contribute to people in Ukraine. One of the organizations is World Central Kitchen. Our support, no matter how small, she assured me, is making a difference.

P.P.S. For more discussion about dignity and other subjects close to our organizational hearts, join me, Paul and Micki Maynard on Friday, March 4 on Zoom at Noon EST for a discussion of Micki’s new book, Satisfaction Guaranteed, which is all about the story of Zingerman’s.

A pile of triangle-shaped baked goods with different colored fillings exposed in the middle of each.

Hamantaschen from the Bakehouse

Celebrate Purim with Paul’s favorite pastry product

If you didn’t already know, Erev Purim starts on the evening of March 16 (the day after the Deli event for our anniversary). Although the actual holiday is just that evening and then the next day, Hamantaschen are terrific any time. They’ve been Paul’s favorite pastry for as long as I can remember!

If you don’t know it, Purim is the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Persian Jews outwitting the wicked minister Haman who was out to annihilate them. Haman was going to have all the Jews put to death, but the uncle (Mordechai) of the Queen (Esther) found out about Haman’s evil intentions and passed word to his niece (Queen Esther) who in turn told the King, who then put Haman to death instead of the Jews. The triangular shape was said to be derived from the three-cornered hat that Haman wore. A different origin story is that they were made by central European Jews based on the German mohntaschen—a poppyseed filled pastry pocket. However they came to be, they do taste terrific!

The modern-day tradition around Purim calls for kids to dress up in costume, traditionally as Queen Esther, Mordechai, Haman, etc. The night Purim begins, Jews gather at the synagogue to read the Megillah—the story of Purim. Every time Haman’s name comes up in the reading, kids swing old-fashioned noise makers. The best thing of all about Purim from a culinary standpoint, is most definitely, Hamantaschen. These beautiful little all-butter cookie dough crust pockets are stuffed with an array of fillings: the Creamery’s cream cheese, mixed with Vanilla bean; Apricot; Hungarian Prune with Walnuts; and, Paul’s favorite, Dutch Poppy Seed. All are excellent.

It’s a Jewish tradition to bring gifts at Purim, so a box of Hamantaschen dropped off at the office or your neighbor’s house would be a great way to do that. We happily ship Hamantaschen all over the country, so place your holiday orders soon to get them there before Purim!

Ship Hamantaschen to Hoboken

P.S. We’ll be donating $1 from the sale of each Hamantaschen purchased in our Bakeshop this month to Polish Humanitarian Action, to help them assist Ukrainian refugees at the Polish border escaping the violence. Feeling helpless about how to help people in Ukraine, we thought that the Purim story—where the wicked minister almost comes out on top but ends up losing seemed fitting for what’s happening right now. 

P.P.S. If you want to make hamantaschen at home, the recipe in the wonderful Zingerman’s Bakehouse book!

Six sausages cooking on a grate over charcoal.

Housemade Sausages at Cornman Farms

Swing by and pick some up for dinner at your house!

While Cornman Farms’ specialty is wonderfully catered wedding ceremonies and cool, culinarily-focused corporate events, our partner and chef Kieron Hales also makes some mean sausage! While we insiders have been able to enjoy Kieron’s sausage making skills for many years now, it’s only in the past few months that he’s committed to make enough to offer for retail sale. Which means you all can order online and then swing past Cornman Farms on Island Lake Drive in Dexter and pick some up.

There are four of Kieron’s super-tasty sausages in the online shop. Chipolata, Cumberland, Bratwurst (gf) and Pork & Apple Sausage (gf). Here is the link (pun intended) to check out more.

  • Chipolata — Made from coarsely ground fresh pork, seasoned with breadcrumbs, black pepper, onion, coriander, paprika, nutmeg, thyme and oregano. Similar in style to Italian sausage or maybe a Polish biała kiełbasa.

  • Cumberland — Probably the most famous of British sausages. It’s been a local specialty of the County of Cumberland in the far northwest of England for centuries. It’s a chunky, coarse-cut sausage that’s spiced with breadcrumbs, fresh sage, onion, garlic, and black pepper.

  • Bratwurst — Finely ground fresh pork seasoned with mace, ginger, marjoram, and black pepper. Great with a really good mustard (we have a marvelous newly-arrived Tarragon Mustard from France at the Deli).

  • Pork and Apple — His mum’s recipe, it’s Kieron’s favorite. It starts with ground fresh pork, blended with fresh apple, and seasoned with thyme, rosemary, and some Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon (on special as part of the Mail Order Spring Sale).

As with everything Kieron does, the sausages are all made with a lot of love and an eye to the traditions of his family and the regions in which the recipes originate. All four are sold in six-packs, fully cooked and frozen so all you need to do is drive over to pick some up, and head home to reheat! Great on their own, added to soups, stews, or sauces, or cut into slices and served as an appetizer!

Shop Cornman Farms Housemade Sausages
A dark colored bottle with a purple label.

Real Fig Vinegar from Northern Italy

Wonderful, naturally sweet condiment

The problems of nationalism, conflict, and the shifting of political borders are neither unique to Ukraine nor new to the world (see anarchist Rudolph Rocker’s terrific Nationalism and Culture for more on this). As part of the political and border shifts that accompanied the violence of WWI, the mountainous Trentino-Alto Adige region went from being part of the Austro-Hungarian empire to Italy. It is a beautiful area, one that is off the beaten tourist track, but totally worth visiting. It’s the source of some wonderful wine and really fine foods, including this little-known terrific vinegar.

Unlike nearly every other fruit vinegar on the market—most all of which are made from wine vinegar sweetened up with fruit syrup—this is the real thing. Made today as the Romans would have, it starts with fig wine (yes, wine made from the juice of figs, rather than grapes), which is then converted naturally to vinegar, and aged in wood barrels to intensify and soften its flavor. The end result is a vinegar that’s superbly smooth and tastes totally of figs. Impressively, it’s not too sweet; its flavor is rich, raisiny, intense but not strong. If you’re one of Balsamic vinegar’s many fans, you will likely love this one. Mist it onto freshly broiled salmon or duck. Add a bit to a salad. Sprinkle it over fresh fruit. Or do as I’ve been doing and just sip a shot. Sure to set new standards for what fruit vinegar can and should be!

Shop Fig Vinegar
You won’t see the Fig Vinegar on the Mail Order site, but we’re glad to send some your way. Email us at If you are on the Mail Order site and you’re intrigued by vinegars made with fruit-wines, check out the raspberry vinegar from the Johnson family in Nebraska.
Plate of mashed cauliflower with olive oil, cheese, and ground black pepper on top.

Mashed Cauliflower with Olive Oil

An easy dish to make at home

As you cook your way through the final four weeks of winter, here’s an easy dish you can make for dinner in under 20 minutes. It tastes terrific and is versatile enough to serve as a side, or a main course (in our vegetable-focused house, it’s the latter). I heard about it many years ago from a kind customer who shared the idea one evening at the Roadhouse. I tried it and, lo and behold, it was excellent, easy, and delicious—right up my late-evening-eater’s alley.

To prepare it, all you have to do is boil or steam up fresh cauliflower. Cook it well so it’s nice and soft throughout (al dente won’t work for this dish). When it’s done, just mash it up with a lot of really good olive oil. Olive oil is a key ingredient, not an afterthought, so this is a place to put your best, not to get by with so-so. The Olio Nuovo I wrote about from Il Molino would be wonderful. Add some sea salt and plenty of black pepper (or try the Balinese Long Pepper), taste, adjust the seasonings, and you’re ready to go. You can enhance it further by adding some mashed anchovies, roasted garlic, or even some of the Creamery’s really good Fresh Goat Cream Cheese. You can also grate on some Pecorino or some Parmigiano Reggiano. In any case, it’s an incredibly easy and very delicious dish that you can make from start to finish in under 20 minutes.

Shop Olive Oil

Other Things on My Mind

Part of how I attempt to understand the horror of what’s going on in Ukraine is to turn to musicians and artists on the ground there, and then also to honor and share their work.

  • Navka is a singer whose music blends modern rhythms with traditional Ukrainian folk songs. Her message to the world last week is heartbreaking (TW: This video contains graphic language and footage of explosions).

  • Folknery is a Ukranian “free-folk” band whose name combines “William Faulkner” with “folklore.”

  • Zhadan and the Dogs is a ska band featuring poet Zhadan. Here’s some background on Zhadan’s poetry.

  • Iryna Tsilyk is the maker of the award-winning film The Earth is a Blue Orange, about a family living on the edge of the war in Krasnohorivka.

  • Artem Chekh’s book Absolute Zero is about the war in Donbas.

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