xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: It is always dangerous when you think you know everything.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

It is always dangerous when you think you know everything.

It is always dangerous when you think you know everything.

Alexander Pope warned us long ago, “That a little knowledge is dangerous thing.”  However, when we think we know everything it can be more than dangerous. It can be fatal.

This was brought home to me early in my career as a school principal when I attended an In-Service course aimed at developing our leadership skills. One activity involved us being arranged in groups of six at about ten separate tables. The facilitator of the course told us that we were going to be given a multi choice test on the subject, “Surviving in the Canadian Wilderness.”

He informed us that we would do the test individually and as a group. After we had handed in our individual answers, we would then do the test again as a group exercise. I was one of two male principals in our group of six. Before we started doing the group activity, I modestly informed my table mates that I had spent two years teaching in Canada. I let my message sink in, so that my five colleagues could thank their lucky stars that a veritable walking encyclopaedia on Surviving in the Canadian Wilderness was going to lead them all to safety.

Then, the other male principal, sitting directly opposite, said that he had done a years’ exchange teaching in Canada. Obviously, between the two of us, our group would not only survive but would positively thrive in the Canadian wilderness.

It would be fair to say that the exchange teaching gentleman and I rather dominated the discussion and answer session that followed on from our individual tests.  After thirty years I have forgotten most of the questions, but they related to avoiding confrontations with angry grizzly bears, finding food, staying warm and dry and keeping the fading batteries of your torch or radio sufficiently charged in a cold climate to enable them to emit light or send out a signal.

The question about the grizzly bear asked what you should when an angry bear is heading your way. The responses were: A. Run away. B. Climb a tree. C. Roll up into an inert ball and play dead. D. Charge towards the bear, yelling loudly and waving your arms aggressively.

My fellow expert and I looked condescendingly at our table mates and said that A was the obvious answer and moved on to the next question. That was how we handled the quiz. We knew the answers, so we did not bother too much with questioning our tablemates for alternative answers.

After lunch, the facilitator gave us the results of the test. Only about twenty of the sixty principals present managed to survive in the Canadian wilderness. I was not one of them. Neither was my fellow expert, the gentleman who spent a year on teacher exchange in the True North Strong and Free.

Not one table survived. We all died out there in the blizzardly Canadian wilderness. Then the Facilitator became very vicious. He pointed out that on most of the tables that perished in the frozen snowfields, there were individual principals who had survived, according to their individual responses. The Facilitator, reprimanded us for not taking advantage of all the knowledge that was in our groups. There were people in each group who knew what to do to survive but the group had perished
Two of these survivors were sitting at my table. In fact, they both scored very well on the test. They were two middle aged female principals. During our group discussions they had not made any contribution. They had not suggested any answers. They just sat there while Exchange Teacher and I answered the questions. Yet, these two ladies had the knowledge that could have led our table to survival and safety.

At first, I was annoyed that these two ladies, who knew how to survive in the Canadian wilderness, had cruelly let our table freeze to death. However, I soon realised that it was all my own fault. Because the exchange teacher and I had been to Canada, we had appointed ourselves to leadership positions and dominated the group discussion. The two people who had the knowledge to save us were not invited to contribute. A BIG mistake. It could have been a fatal mistake.

After that In -Service course I always made it a point at any meeting that I was involved in to ask and encourage everyone at the table to offer an opinion. Whether it was a staff meeting, a parent meeting, a group of students or school administrators, I always encouraged everyone to give the rest of us insights into their thinking about the issues under consideration. I did not ever want to go away from a meeting where someone who knew how to solve the problem had not been encouraged to provide the answer. Of course, the other trick is to recognise the best answer when it is given, even if not is not your own. That is a big trick.

Regarding the grizzly bear question, my suggestion to run away was one of the worst options. The two ladies had said that it was best to play dead or roll up into an inert ball, which can work sometimes, depending on the bear’s demeanour at the time.

Grizzly bears can climb trees and they can run much faster than we can. No one has lived to tell us what happens when you run aggressively towards an angry grizzly bear. Which reminds me of two men out hiking in the Canadian wilderness who saw a grizzly bear advancing towards them. One of the men immediately opened his backpack, took off his hiking boots and started putting on his jogger.

“What are you doing?” said his companion. “That bear can outrun us, even if you are wearing joggers.”

“Well, I do not need to out run the bear. I only need to out run you,” said his companion as he leapt to his feet and sprinted towards the horizon.

So, I suppose the best advice for avoiding a grizzly bear attack is to go hiking with slower moving companions. As for getting the best out of a meeting, make sure everyone sitting at the table, no matter what their status in the great scheme of things, has had a chance to speak up.


1 comment:

  1. Very well written! A good message for know it alls in there....


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