Monday, December 19, 2005
Ode To A Speed Bump
I wonder at a person who reaches adulthood, a person with children, no less (which fact would seem to give a person a sense of themselves relative to others), whose interface with the world requires everyone to get out of their way (or at least to go around them). Is this a self-esteem thing? Is a clod's way of being self-actualized, to think that people saluting makes you important? Hell, is that what importance is to most people? Is it that bad press is still press (and little people don't get any)? If we make demands of others (at home and at work), is this a reflection of personal attainment?
I'm thinking of a specific person I've worked with in the past, whom I'll call "Speed Bump," since his entire mission in life seems to be 1) to impede the normal functioning of anything not directly to his benefit (and some things that are), and 2) to contradict anything that is said to him, by almost anyone, and to do this first and then evaluate the sentiment in question relative to his actual convictions. (This latter characteristic makes conversation... difficult.) I was warned about Speed Bump in advance; I have no business being surprised. But really. How does one garner a reputation for being unpleasant and difficult and not know it? Or more likely: how do you know it and not care? Why is this an OK way to be?
Pilots are supposedly notorious for being cocky. Attempts have been made to celebrate / justify / explain it in movies like "Top Gun." And maybe in a single-seat combat environment the sense that "I can't be beaten" has tactical advantages. But in the real world it just makes you seem like a hairy horse's ass (like from Lizzie's new favorite movie: "No, really. I'm kind of a big deal!").
It's dangerous to speak in generalities, and there are always notable exceptions. But there do seem to be patterns. I'm reminded again and again that the job of piloting requires not a broad education, but rather a great deal of technical training. So maybe it's not surprising then that pilots often confuse training and education. In my experience they dismiss most liberal arts education as being politically liberal (that is, either soft and unnecessary or overtly harmful), and have only little more reverence for science. Interestingly, most airlines require pilot applicants to have a college degree, but they require this because they can and not because it's needed in any way to do the job (any more than education in the liberal arts is needed to drill on someone's teeth). But many pilots get their degrees thru aviation colleges or military academies, and emerge from these institutions well-trained but maybe not with what the rest of the world would consider a balanced education. Don't get me wrong: I have met some brilliant pilots over the years (and also some brilliant and exquisitely educated military folks), many of whom have twice the intellect and education that I have--and god knows I'm not the standard bearer for intelligence or education or anything else (well, M&M and Diet Coke consumption, maybe); but as a general rule, pilots do not impress me as a group which reads recreationally or which respects education generally.
Anyway, one of the byproducts of this whole setup seems to be an exaggerated self-assessment. Pilots tend to pass immediate and harsh summary judgment on any issue laid before them, often pontificating on subjects about which neither they nor I know jack shit. But that doesn't temper the oratory. Whatever the subject under discussion--welfare and poverty; tax policy; anything political; economics; the running of our or any other company, to include all and sundry job descriptions therein; education; church / state issues; adoption; inflation; finances; single parenting; whatever--they know the answers to everyone else's questions better than these people know themselves. Nay, far better.
Now, far be it from me, left-footed fool that I am, to turn away wisdom and insight from a sage source. But these are the same guys who tell spousal abuse and race jokes. The same guys who angrily support W and his very religious agenda, yet also talk admiringly about all the "action" married pilot guys get from the American-loving hookers (oh yeah, it's love all right) in South America and parts of Europe--to include strategies for keeping wives in the dark. I listened to a conversation a while back between Speed Bump and Friend about so-and-so's wife who, in spite of the husband treating her like dog shit, keeps on serving him obsequiously and treating him like a king. (This was spoken with an air of awe and a grim sense of justice being done.) I finally blurted out "Why the fuck doesn't he just hire a servant?!" which resulted in a very quiet cockpit for half an hour. (I could feel the nonverbal communication between them: "Hold your tongue, Friend... He's not one... of... us!")
I think something quite opposite to what afflicts Speed Bump got ingrained in me long ago, how I'm not sure. But it's kind of my mission in life now not to put others out in any way. I strive to be invisible and as self-sustaining as possible. I'm conscious that I'm not always an active part of The Solution, and I'm not necessarily the most helpful person in any scenario. But I strive to be on that side of the equation. And I try as a rule to remind myself that however much I think I understand about any given issue, there is almost always something more than I have not taken into account. God knows I have pontificated enough on this blog, so my reserve hasn't beaten ALL the pilot out of me. But I hope I am always ready to be corrected.
I don't know. Maybe I place considerably too high a value on courtesy; maybe having others take notice of one is not so bad a characteristic. Maybe it's what gets stuff done in the end. But after a recent encounter with Speed Bump, all I can think of is how much I want never to be like him.