Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The General's Forgiveness

Skunk count: holding at 1, but the trap caught a possum last night.  Opened the door to release him; 20 minutes later the possum was still in there. 
It was a news item over the week of Feb. 7, and it seemed to be destined to flare briefly and fade away.  Fortunately, someone else picked up on it and said what I didn't have time to say.

This is the the kind of thing that happens to people all the time.  You mistake someone for someone else, and before you have time to catch yourself, thump - you get a nice big mouthful of foot.

Now generally it's no big deal.  Like I said, it happens all the time.  You see a pair of dark blue pants, dark blue shirt, and say "Excuse me, officer..." but the guy that turns around isn't a cop, he's a janitor.

Better still, remember being very young and following your mom's legs through the store, until you looked up and discovered you'd been following the wrong legs?  When did that happen?  And now that it's happened, how do you fix it?  No idea where Mom went - you thought you had her in sight the whole time!

General Peter Chiarelli, four stars and very high up in the United States military, was wearing his full dress uniform at a dinner full of bigwigs in Washington.  Another diner, seated, saw Chiarelli's pants going by - sit down and imagine seeing something out of the corner of your eye, you can see how this could happen - assumed the pants were on a waiter (whose pants were similar) and asked for a glass of wine.  Well, you can just imagine what Chiarelli did.

The guy's a four-star General, for Pete's sake.  He's a career military leader, led a life of service and loyalty.  When he says "jump," tens of thousands of armed soldiers are already in the air before he gets to "m."

He got her a glass of wine.  And when asked about it, he was very casual about the whole deal.  Honestly, by the tone of what I'm hearing in the news, Chiarelli's whole take on this issue is one of quiet befuddlement.  He hasn't actually come out and said it in so many words, but you can almost hear him thinking, "what's all the fuss about?  I got her a glass of wine, everybody calm down."

It's easy to say the guy is in such a position of power that it costs him nothing to humble himself with a little impersonal service, that he doesn't lose face in the act.  There are examples of other people in positions of power and influence "lowering" themselves with selfless acts of service to others who didn't recognize them.

I want to flip the coin around.  How about instead of assuming the general has lowered himself, he has raised his fellow diner up?  In this country where it is one of our central tenets that all people are created equal, why then wouldn't he get her a glass of wine?  And he gets a chuckle to share with his coworkers, the lady gets her drink, and the thousands of soldiers who obey this general's command respect him all the more.

We're all in a position to raise each other up.  You can make yourself higher by pushing others down, by counting coup on the people around you and then crowing your dominance to anyone who will listen.  There are lots of people that do this - I'm looking at you, Fox News - and while that may have its place at times, ultimately it doesn't do anything good.

Say you've caught someone doing something wrong.  Now's your chance to make yourself look smart in comparison: "Aha!  You're stupid, and here's why!"  Well, okay - you pointed out that they weren't correct.  But now you've proven that you're an insensitive, rude jerk.

Now let's imagine you've caught someone doing something wrong.  Now's your chance to make them a little more competent.  "Hold up a second.  Let me show you a different way to do that, maybe it'll work better for you."  No confrontation, no resentment, no accusations.  Now you've raised up the person who was wrong and he's not wrong anymore.  And in doing so, have you lowered your own position at all, lost authority, lost face?  Not even a little bit.

What if the guy is one of your subordinates, and you're his manager - well, now your subordinate is that much more effective.  Your crew's production numbers go up, quality goes up, maybe lost time goes down.  What if he's the boss, and you're the subordinate - slightly different results: the boss has more respect for you.  Your reputation is improved and you could wind up with a better assignment in light of your management or problem solving skills.

In a country where all people are created equal, there should be no dominance games.  You try to beat someone down, and you go down with them.  You raise someone up, and raise yourself as well.  It's so easy it's almost laughable.  Sometimes it only takes a few words.

"Waiter, could I have a glass of wine?"

"Sure thing.  Red or white?"

Here's to you, General.  You're a good example.

No comments:

Post a Comment