Thursday, July 23, 2015

don't ask the boss

One of the seeds that took root when I was a cub newspaper reporter -- and subsequently spread far and wide -- was this: If you really want to know what's going on, don't ask the boss. The notion was born, no doubt, out of repeatedly unsuccessful attempts to get to the meat and potatoes of some social or political direction by trying to elicit comments from the poobahs in charge.

No, I learned after a while: If you want to know what the governor is doing, don't call the governor.

And the same seedling took on meaning in other realms as well. Trying to get to the bottom of things almost invariably meant talking to those trying to implement whatever grand scheme was afoot: Hitler could not tell you much about Nazism; the police chief was unlikely to impart the bloodstream of his or her profession; the mafia don or medical miracle worker or angel of journalism or Buddha or Jesus ... if you really wanted to know what was going on, don't ask the boss.

Find the sergeant who implemented the lieutenant's instruction.

Why NOT ask the boss? Well, partly because the boss always has an agenda that is outside the direction of the movement of which s/he is the honcho. At the easiest level it's, "save your own ass." At a more intricate level, it's assuring a cohesiveness to what may be a very diverse bunch of acolytes. It's politics and the lying by omission (the omerta) that tints the scene: Doctors and mafia dons and church fathers and cops look out for their own and ... well, sometimes the rest of us pay, however benevolent to social direction.

But what began and to some extent remains the touchstone of don't-ask-the-boss showed itself as less-than-certain as time went by. For one thing, if you don't ask the boss-spokesman-leading-light, it means a lot more work. Ferreting out aspects of "what's going on" is like nailing Jell-O to a wall. The further anyone gets from the guiding principals that poobahs may enunciate, the more self-centered and fractured things become. Communism/socialism become gulag; Christianity becomes inquisition and child molestation; goodness requires enforcement etc.

Last night I watched U.S. President Barack Obama talking with TV satirist Jon Stewart. One of the things I think Obama correctly observed was the social diffusion that has erupted with the spread of communications/the Internet. No longer was there a social conversation about serious issues that affected everyone. No longer was there an assumed commonality of national interest. Instead -- though he didn't put it exactly like this -- there was Facebook and Twitter and a self-centered impatience to get my view across. And of course there was the impatience of those who were impatient with the impatient. The ground work necessary for health care or a nuclear detente with Iran took years to cobble together but now ... well the critics and apologists claim the day as if they had done anything in reality.

Don't-ask-the-boss seems to have morphed, over time, into don't-ask-the-employees-either.

This morning, on the porch, a butterfly had become trapped and confused by the windows that were closed yet seemed to reveal an open space it was meant to inhabit. It fluttered and flapped against the glass and paid scant attention to the fact that I tried to talk it out the open door.

At first I watched. Then I talked. Then I tried to net it. Then I simply couldn't take it any more and, despite the accumulated boxes and other detritus that barred the way to various windows, I had to do something. A stumbled and lost-regained-balance over to the long-unopened window and opened it amid squeaks and squeals.

Good? Bad? Humane? Self-centered?

Be responsible.

Get a life!


  1. I feel an obligation to keep up with politics, just to be informed should somebody need information, most often because they're so badly informed it's painful to see. I'd probably be happier if i didn't. I could tell these badly informed folks to keep their funny stories to themselves and go away. But when they thrust themselves on others, perhaps less able to defend themselves from stupidity, i feel the need to weigh in and defend their potential for intelligence.

    I'm a self acknowledged idiot who tries not to make it worse. I'm pretty sure i can't make it better. And sometimes, just to shorten the conversation, i'll point out the historic insignificance of the current foolishness, the unlikeliness of anyone's idea's creating the utopia they advertise. I bang my head against walls because sometimes someone needs me to, and my callouses are sufficient.

    The dog and pony show has been upgraded with flashy shiny's and everyone's an informed pundit. But everyone was always an armchair quarterback and nobody's changed. Well, i've changed, older, tireder, but dogged still. From my armchair i pontificate with the best of them. I'd apologize for it, but doubt that would help either.

  2. There's something to be said for not living long enough to see the latest crop of fools even foolisher than those who came before. Think I'll soak my feet in a basin and watch the garden grow.