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A Real S. O. B.

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"It's one thing to exhibit good judgement
but quite another to possess it."

While delivering a series of workshops at one of our National Laboratories, The Muse and I heard from almost everyone we met about what a "Real SOB" their liaison to the Department of Energy was. According to the testimony, this guy seemed to be personally responsible for most of the trouble their projects experienced. A short time later, we found ourselves in Washington DC, and we scheduled some face time with this guy. When we arrived at the appointed hour, he greeted us but asked, "I'm not certain why you requested this meeting." I replied that never having met a Real SOB, we thought we'd take the opportunity to meet one. He laughed. Our scheduled fifteen minute meet-and-greet turned into a two hour conversation.

The Real SOB is generally in the eye of the beholder
rather than in the dedicated heart of the observed. The lab's Real SOB in DOE readily acknowledged that his job sometimes required him to fulfill the role of Designated SOB. He didn't enjoy the role and resigned shortly after we met with him, but the underlying difficulty with the complainants at the lab might have been better understood as a rather naive notion that one could somehow run multimillion dollar scientific investigations without the presence of some designated SOBs. The funding authorities had their designated SOBs, too. Every constituency had their Boy Scouts as well as their SOBs, coexisting in an endlessly contentious family.

Healthy families tend to be contentious sometimes. I suspect that the apparently endlessly harmonious ones thrive only in the eyes of their beholders, who mistakenly interpret more to satisfy some personal fantasy than perceive any underlying mystery. We are walking contradictions, even when we're sitting still. We are complicated critters.

Our current President demonstrates all my tells of being a Real Bastard, but I have no idea what's lurking in his heart, no more than he could have any idea what's lurking in my heart. Behaviorists might blithely insist that actions speak for themselves without mentioning that actions say nothing without an observer. It's the observer who actually does the interpreting as well as the speaking. Our President seems to be a Real Bastard, according to me. All I need do, it seems, is to find a majority to agree with me and my interpretation's validated; or, a vocal minority to confirm that I'm probably one of the more perceptive observers. The rest might someday catch up to my current level of sophistication.

A few times in my life, people have taken me aside to confide their interpretation of one or more of my behaviors. These conversations always proved to be tough as my self-image collided with another's interpretation. Sometimes, they counseled me to imagine how others might interpret my actions, but try as I might, I could not quite conceive how anyone else might be thinking. For some, this might be second nature. For me, it's more like an unnatural act. It's one thing to exhibit good judgement but quite another to possess it.

One of my Seven Ethical Responsibilities, Conscious Blindness, counsels me to acknowledge that I am inevitably blind to most of what goes on around me, most prominently, what others think. I simply cannot know without asking. In any multi-cultural context, no one dominant best way to think exists. This means that whatever I do, whatever I might utter, gets exposed to a variety of conflicting interpretations, none of which I get to vote on. One reasonable response to such a world might be to simply curl in upon myself, but even then, some observer might peg me for the wallflower introvert I know myself to be and insist upon encouraging me to join the dance.

I can seem to be a Real SOB sometimes. When my delicate sensibilities feel offended, I can dish back my pain amplified a thousand times. I'm better at catching myself being myself than I used to be, and sometimes even manage to catch myself before I throw the paving stone through the offending pane glass window I firmly believe I'm peering through into another's soul. I might observe myself better now, but whenever observing myself, I fall prey to the apparently inescapable Observer's Paradox. As Barry Oshrey famously insisted, "We see the world as we are, not as it is."

The complainants at that lab were their own kind of SOBs, perhaps not Real SOBs, but functional enough for government work. Their conviction that their Real SOB was, in fact, a Real SOB, served to distance them from one uber-useful champion, inhibiting them from resolving their only-too-real difficulties. They were their own worst enemies, however many apparently Real SOBs they perceived surrounding them. This phenomenon reinforces another of my Seven Ethical Responsibilities, which insists that I hold the ethical responsibility to at least try to Make The Most Generous Interpretation of all that goes on around me. Once I acknowledge that I'm blind, generosity might necessarily follow.

I still think Our President's a Real Bastard, though.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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