Know when to get out of your own way

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 9/3/19

On Tuesday and Wednesday last week, I had a couple nighttime events that, really, I have no way to explain. I think the closest analogy to them is, maybe, the Moscow Circus. Without a ringleader. Or, …

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Know when to get out of your own way

Posted

On Tuesday and Wednesday last week, I had a couple nighttime events that, really, I have no way to explain. I think the closest analogy to them is, maybe, the Moscow Circus.

Without a ringleader. Or, well, rings. And amplified.

Seriously, over the course of two nights, my teaching partner and I meet with about 300 kids and their families, explain to them what we do, and then provide them with the opportunity to try out all of the musical instruments that we teach to see if they find something that they enjoy and think they’ll be good at.

Yep. 300 kids, all playing different musical instruments. That they don’t know how to play. In groups of 15 or 20. All at the same time.

First of all, it needs to be said that these events are a collaborative effort; the two of us guide the thing, but without the cooperation and help of the other six teachers in our area, and a couple dozen high school students, these could not happen.

The explanation part of these meetings is the part we have the most control over, because we have microphones. And, there are a million things we want to tell the kids and the families. (I know—it’s hard for long-time readers to imagine I might have a tendency to get verbose when somebody hands me a microphone, but, well, there you have it.)

But, I’ve learned over the years to keep it simple, keep it short, hit the high points, and then shut up. Let the kids do what they’re there to do, and just get out of the way. A full 29 years it took me to learn this.

Because sometimes, the very best thing you can do is get out of the way.

I was thinking about that in relation to public policy and public relations the other day. When the director of some dumb agency you’ve never heard of put out a public announcement that the policy regarding the citizenship of children of U.S. military members stationed overseas was going to change, it became a textbook example of what happens when you don’t get out of your own way. The statement (not the policy) was written in a way that made it sound like automatic citizenship for children of service members was a thing of the past.

Trouble is, that’s not what the policy said. it turns out the policy is much more narrowly tailored, and only applies to a very small number of parents in overseas service and to overseas adoptions. For the vast majority of service members and children, nothing changed.

Two lessons here. One, confirmation of Twain’s old adage that a lie/misinformation circles the globe twice before the truth gets its boots on. Social media blew up with this story, before anyone bothered to actually understand the policy. The story did indeed circle the globe twice before the responsible corrections followed up. Not really their fault— they just ran with the memo. Had “they” simply put out the policy without trying to be a part of the story, the media would have likely just overlooked the whole thing.

But secondly, every single member of the current government should understand the sort of scrutiny they’re under, the kind of environment they’re operating in, and that’s especially true in regards to immigration and citizenship. To be oblivious to that reality is to court disaster.

Enter dumb agency you’ve never heard of.

It is inconceivable that the public information officer of the agency ran this memo out without putting it past a public relations professional. They could have saved themselves days’ worth of grief over this whole affair if they’d written the memo better. Or not written a memo at all.

Let the whole affair be a bit of a cautionary tale, my friends. You don’t always have to control things — try to recognize those moments that take care of themselves and just be smart about letting some things happen naturally.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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