Searching for that last straw

Long, long ago I was fortunate enough to hear a joke that’s stuck with me for all these years. What I hadn’t anticipated was that a single joke would help inform my political sensibilities forevermore. That’s right, a joke has become a guiding light to my method of dealing with others.

Emo Philips, the comedian, is an odd duck. I suspect he’d take that description as a compliment. He’s also a visionary who pokes holes in interpersonal relationships and shows us our faults through humor. In the case of the joke that made such an impression on me, the universality of its message is expressed better than I’ve heard it said by anyone else.

The core of the joke is that Emo happens upon a poor soul who is intent on doing himself in. Moved to help prevent the imminent demise of this hapless fellow, Emo establishes a bond by pointing out the close connections they both share. He runs down the list of associations common to the two of them. And the list grows. It becomes comical in length as the two men admit to being increasingly in step with one another, until ultimately the unfortunate one admits that his beliefs diverge from Emo’s just slightly — and so Emo kills him.

That’s the way we are. And I use the word, “we” intentionally.

As a race, as a breed, as a species, we are almost incapable of accepting the views of others if they are not completely in step with our own way of thinking. You know it’s true.

There’s a reason we’re raised from childhood being told not to discuss politics or religion. It’s because most of the people we interact with in life will be unwilling to accept any departure from their own perspective. Words will be exchanged, feelings will be hurt, relationships will be altered, fists may fly. It’s all bad, because we can’t take someone who sees a situation differently than we do.

It’s almost as if we are pre-wired to search for that last straw, the one that will absolutely break the camel’s back. We move through life dressed for success, but inside we’re little more than a drunken bully looking for a fight. We’ve got an invisible chip on our shoulder and an ugliness hidden deep inside. “Disagree with me, will ya’.” That’s when the trouble starts.

Don’t believe me? Look at the comments in the Politics for Pilots blog. There’s virtually no idea that can be expressed in print that won’t bring out somebody, often several somebodies, who take it upon themselves to burn down the village rather than suffer the insult of accepting someone taking an alternate view on virtually any topic.

I mention this for one very important reason. This is the path to dysfunction, destruction, and ultimate failure.

No group ever found great success through disagreement. Rather, success comes from working through disagreements, finding common ground, and choosing to make progress where it’s possible rather than fight incessantly about issues we aren’t ready to resolve yet.

In general aviation we more often than not choose to disagree, argue, become entrenched in our positions, and lose the battle as a result. It’s true. That’s our history, sad and preventable as it may be.

Why do airports close, why do aviation businesses fail, why are partnerships and associations so difficult to maintain? Too often it’s because the supporters are too fragmented and dedicated to their own egos and an inexplicable penchant for infighting to work together. We’ve taken to heart the old Tareyton cigarette ad, “I’d rather fight than switch.”

Only this month I had the tremendous displeasure of sitting through a meeting where an official found it necessary to lecture a room full of far more experienced and successful people about how a general aviation airport should work. In the end he managed to drive a wedge between himself and his audience.

His intent was clearly to illustrate how insightful and undeniably right he was. He failed miserably.

Instead he proved to more than a dozen dedicated people that he was not to be trusted, confided in, or included in planning any more than was absolutely necessary.

And so the fragmentation begins. Sides will be chosen, teams will coalesce, and the airport will suffer as a result. Aviation will take one more shot to the abdomen because a single person took it upon themselves to place their individual needs ahead of the job at hand. Once again we begin the process of achieving failure.

The solution is simple. Or at least it ought to be. It requires each of us to consider the possibility that the other guy just might have a point. Perhaps our view, while attractive to us, isn’t the only way to view the situation. Our perspective might even be flawed.

If we were to listen at that moment, learn something new, see the situation in a new context, and put our own ego aside – we might just begin the process of building a winning team rather than perpetuating our predilection for tearing down any movement that didn’t begin in our own head.

It’s worth considering at least. Unless of course the point is to continue fighting unwinnable battles with ourselves. If that’s the case, we’re on right on track.


  1. Suzanna Jordan says

    I’d like to nominate you to handle diplomacy in the Mideast! Seriously, we should all heed this message.

  2. says

    Hey Len; great idea! Keep up the “cheering” * for Jamie – perhaps he’ll appoint you as his campaign manger, Lt. Governor or as his running mate for Vice President – IF running on a “social/liberal” ticket? But who’ll pay for the straw hats and buttons – donations anyone?
    * applause machine was “repoed” for lack of payment.
    To bad; and President Obama had a reservation on it – oh well, next “State of The Union” address?

  3. GA Gal says

    Talking to each other – what a concept! I’ve always been one of The Airport People, aka “Downtown,” encountering varying levels of trust – or, unfortunately more often, lack thereof – from the GA tenants and users I dealt with. (The distrust meter went higher when they learned I’m a lawyer.) Perhaps it was really not so amazing that going to meet them at their hangar or office, attending the airport users’ group meeting or the cook-out, or even taking a few extra minutes on the phone, gave all parties a new light on “the other guy.” Best was when I was allowed to spend all day Friday at the GA airport, so that we all really got to know each other as people, not as Them and Us.

    Good communication needs not only technical honesty but true substance: officials, as Jamie describes them in the anecdote, must stop spouting grant assurance and other legal requirements (yes, I said that!), what a well-paid consultant told them, and the “rich guys and their toys” stereotype, and listen to their GA partners. Those partners need to specify their issues, and ideas to address them, rather than the not-always-but-too-often approach of bumper-sticker (wing-sticker?) spoutings about “government,” “red tape,” “bureaucrats,” “over-regulation,” “frivolous lawsuits” and the like.

    GA has challenges even in good times. Times are interesting right now, needless to say, with a lot going on, both good and not-so. Let’s truly work together to advance the good, particularly the good that GA, especially bizav, does for our shared country.

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