Wisdom from The Great Chain of Command

I think we all have certain little snippets that we remember our authority figures or bosses saying at various points in our career (or life if you’ve never had a job). Usually rooted in constructive criticism or good advice, and sometimes questionable advice. Many of these statements probably came from people further up the chain in their own careers.¬†Any way you look at it, these bits of wisdom make their way down a long and complex rabbit hole to you, their recipient.

I’m about to talk to one of my staff who didn’t show up for an early code launch this morning. His excuse was, “sorry, I slept through my alarm.”, which in my mind evokes the image of a guy named Josh Jones who looked at me across the desk once and said, with a stone face and a shrug, “Get a louder alarm clock.” Will it stick on the next person like it did on me, the guy who regularly turns the lights on at my office? I don’t know, but if it does, I’ve done my job right; passing along the tradition of the obvious.

Sometimes they do stick though. I know it because I’ve lived it. Like the time I was interning at the SUNY Fredonia print department under a bear sized guy named Tom Malinoski who called me out on my reluctance to pay attention to detail (or some other related fault) by saying “Your that kinda asshole that’s too lazy to get out of the shower to piss.” That one haunted me for years, especially whenever I actually was too lazy to get out of the shower to piss!

Tom was one of my favorite teachers of all time and someone I maintained contact with from college until his death due to cancer a few years ago. Before he died, in fact; the last time we saw each other I told him about how much those words affected me.

He laughed a little and replied, “Well heck I didn’t mean your own personal shower, do whatever you want there. I meant like a gym shower. Like after football er somethin’.”

I then said, “Tom, I never played any team sports in school, partially because of the shower…”. He looked at me thoughtfully and replied, “Well, gee. Sorry if I fucked you up little buddy.” We both had a good laugh, but I could see that for a moment he realized how a simple short statement could carry on with somebody. He was the kind of dude who appreciated that stuff.

I’m not sure how much thought most people put into the effect a statement can have on a person, but I fully expect my children to reiterate a few of them to me one day at the dinner table, and if I’m lucky, one or two of those great pieces of wisdom might outlive a generation or two.

And maybe the guy who missed the launch this morning will read this and get a louder alarm clock.