Authority

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I'm not a soldier, or a police officer, or a medical professional, or any of those other people with certificates and uniforms that say "this person knows what they are doing". That lack of endorsement by any sort of recognized authority caused me to not write about these subjects for a very, very long time. However, I've had the experience of sitting down with people I respect who've worn all of those uniforms and more, being accepted by them, and trading stories. We've all been able to learn from one another.

I'm still self-conscious about putting what I know out there, in no small part because I realize how little I know. My samples are small -- maybe a dozen life-or-death encounters with people, as many with nature, over the course of a life -- and whatever number would have happened had I not avoided or short-circuited them before they did. A friend and colleague recently talked me into doing some informal teaching, and one of our conversations reminded me of something that happened when I was eleven or so:

My elementary school had received its first bomb threat. For a rural school of fewer than 300 students in the very early 1990's, this was completely unforseen. It was lunchtime when the call came to our school secretary. I was working as a "room aide", eating my lunch in the classroom of younger children so that I could make sure they behaved themselves during a lunch recess period forced inside by inclement weather.

The teacher whose class I was monitoring -- who also happened to be my mother -- returned early. She knew what was going on, and told me that the fire alarm was about to sound, so I should join my class as quickly as possible. As predicted, the alarm rang just after I'd stepped out of that classroom. As I quckstepped my way down the hall, I saw another lower-grade teacher (or was it a substitute? I don't remember.) stuck in what my better-trained adult self would come to know as "OODA bounce". That is, she'd start to do something, then restart, never really taking action because some sort of thought or input was causing her to be stuck. Her students were milling about the room in confusion.

I stepped into the room, stating loudly, "Come on, guys! You know how to do a fire drill. Put everything down right now and line up by me." As they formed up in front of me, I explained that their teacher was urgently needed by the front office secretary, so I was taking them on the fire drill, and started walking as decisively as I could muster, hoping that no one would notice I'd made it all up.

The kids followed, and we joined the rest of the school across the street at the school's normal fire drill rendezvous. This is where I and the other students finally learned that a bomb threat had been called in. This hadn't seemed like a regular fire drill, and I was glad I'd taken over the class, but not at all sure I wouldn't be in big trouble for having done so.

We were all bussed to the local fire station for pick up by our parents (apart for my brother and I, who'd have to wait until the teachers could leave). The teacher whose class I'd taken reappeared, but I stayed close to her kids until they were all picked up. I felt vaguely responsible for them once I'd gone and taken over. Everyone was scared, so I scrounged whatever items teachers and kids had carried out with them -- chalk, a pocket full of rubber bands, and so on -- then enlisted some of my friends to make up "bomb threat games" to teach the littler ones so we could keep them busy as the local PD and volunteer firefighters figured out what to do about the school building.

Near the end of the afternoon, I found myself sitting beneath a tree with the last kid from my commandeered class, who seemed to be the only kid to have figured out that I wasn't really supposed to be in charge. Our conversation has stuck with me over the years:

"If there's an emergency, how do you know if you are in charge?"
"Is anyone else fixing the emergency?"
"No."
"Then you are in charge."

This is why I'm learning to be comfortable writing at teaching about violence and other Bad Things. Mainstream culture in the US tells us to stay back and let the professionals handle it. Unfortunately, a job title doesn't magically confer competence. Fortunately, it's possible to gain competence whether one has the job title or not, and competence is equally useful either way.

For whatever reason, when people stand around and wait for "someone" to do something, I do something. I'm usually winging it, often terrified, and always learning. I think and read and pay attention. I get as much good training is available to me, and I spend time with good people who get it so that we can learn from one another.

Not all sheepdogs wear uniforms, and not everyone in a uniform is a sheepdog. If you are a sheepdog, you know it, because it's a compulsion to act that is incredibly hard to resist. Project Dogpound is a bit of writing about being a "mutt sheepdog" -- a protector without pedigree -- no badge, no uniform, more of my learning informal than not. I have learned from many others, professional and not, so I hope I have something to teach in return.

Learn from me what you can, but think about it. I'm a fallible human, and an uneducated one at that. I will be wrong on some things. I'll be right on others. Use your brain; if you're one of us you have one.

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