Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Attitudes and Mannerisms

I read a New York Times article this afternoon that gave me pause. It also made me pleased that I wasn’t standing at that moment in a war zone, although I would have been pleased about that in any case.

It was about Blackwater, the company which was sub-contracted to provide protection to US government personnel at the beginning of our government’s foray into Iraq, eleven years ago. It was about an investigation into Blackwater’s activity in Iraq, specifically whether it had done some things badly, as well as whether it had done some bad things it shouldn’t have done at all, and on top of which whether the company’s personnel had taken a literal and metaphorical oath of loyalty to someone or some company that might put them into conflict with the people they were protecting.

And it was all very unnerving. In part, because guys holding automatic weapons can be unnerving even if they don’t actively mean to be. And guys holding automatic weapons who appear to be beholden to a company and not the government personnel they’re supposed to be protecting can be very unnerving.

It can also be even more unnerving when other government people come to investigate them, to see if reports of them doing bad things are true … and the guy in charge of the guys holding the automatic weapons basically tells the investigators to scram, but not before telling them that he “could kill them at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it”.

Unnerving, comma, very very.

From the Times article:

The next day, the two men [Richter and Thomas, the government inspectors] met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq, Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.

Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine, Mr. Richter stated in his memo. “I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.

He added that he was especially alarmed because Mr. Carroll was Blackwater’s leader in Iraq, and organizations take on the attitudes and mannerisms of their leader.”

Great heavens. Sounds like dialogue from a movie scene – the sort of scene that features a frowning Benedict Cumberbatch using that low, even tone of voice, and having that slightly lowered head and those fixed eyes. (I have no idea why that analogy should come to me.)

I have observed this phenomenon, the effect of attitudes and mannerisms equal to or greater than that of mere words.

Not in any situations involving automatic weapons, you understand; no indeed. Rather, happily, I’ve observed the truth of that last sentence in far more positive ways than negative.

I’ve seen groups – musical ensembles and others – whose way of operating clearly drew encouragement and inspiration and direction from their leadership.

That can cut both ways.

You may read that last sentence in the context of a performing ensemble which makes sloppy-sounding music and in which not everyone wears all their uniform parts correctly, or at all – and its director looks and acts the part, as well.

Or you may read it in the context of one of the world’s elite soccer teams, which meets an upstart’s challenge, plays well, and wins an important single-elimination-round match – after which many of its coaches and players strive valiantly to console the losing team’s seemingly inconsolable, openly weeping star player.

The members of each of those groups may have tended toward those behaviors anyway, to start with … but, one would suspect, their coaches or teachers or leaders or mentors will have encouraged – indeed, modeled – them, consistently.

As my grandmother used to say, “It ain’t off the ground they licked it.”

I once heard a saying: technology isn’t good or bad – it’s what you do with it. It’s the direction toward which you take it. And in this case, as the great Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser has said, “you will move in the direction of your attitude – positive or negative”.

I take all this as a healthy reminder, as I head into the summer drum major clinic teaching season, that a teacher is on stage every moment (except, perhaps, after the students have been properly room-checked and lights are out and we’re all on our isolated staff floor and giggling like idiots at some silly joke because we’re a little tuckered out from the day’s exertions but we don’t want to go to bed yet ourselves even though we really, really, really should).

And a sizable majority of what we show the people in our organizations comes from what we do and how we do it – not so much from what we say, although how we say it matters too.

I’m thankful to have been brought up in organizations whose leadership took me in what I would consider a very positive direction.

Such as, but not limited to: the summer arts program that will celebrate its 45th anniversary at the end of this week, with a staff reunion that will doubtless feature a whole lot of people remembering a whole lot of accomplishments and friendship and fun. And there’s a reason why the atmosphere of the place, at the very least in the 1980s when I was a camper and then a counselor, was so supportive of our efforts and our camaraderie, and it wasn’t a mystical haze of good luck; it was Priscilla Dewey.

Such as, but not limited to: the college marching ensemble which – on its way to winning a Sudler Award and participating in Presidential inaugurations and national band competitions and a Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade – has turned out a great many of the finest people I know, as professionals and people, whether they’re my lifelong friends or people that I still admire from afar, having never actually met (and the kind of people who would gather to accomplish things like this). It wasn’t an accident; it was (in great measure) George Parks.

Such as, but not limited to: … … well hi Mom! And Dad. (And my grandmother, she of the Killer Quote.)

Because it could all tip the wrong way. Matters could become at least sloppy and at worst truly awful, unless we pay attention and work on pointing people the right way, consciously and attentively.

Take a deep breath … look around to see who needs your help … treat people well … and the curriculum may not take care of itself but it’ll have a much stronger foundation on which to stand.

And far less unnerving.

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July 7, 2014 - Posted by | CRCAP, current events, DMA, education, GNP, news, Starred Thoughts, teachers, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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