Monday, May 04, 2009
Every so often
I find myself witnessing, or sometimes actually taking part in, exchanges that go like this:
First Person: Hey, what do you think of this proposal?
Second Person: Excuse me, but I wasn’t consulted about this.
First Person: Beg pardon?
Second Person: I wasn’t consulted about this.
First Person: Um . . . but that’s why I’m asking what you think. I’m consulting you. This is the consultation right now.
Second Person: I can’t believe you went ahead and did this without asking for anybody’s input. I really think we need to talk.
First Person: ??
And no, I am never the Second Person. When people ask me what I think about X, I simply say “kewl” or “meh” or “ZOMG” or “do not want” or some other Internets locution.
I’ve seen this happen in academic committee meetings, in one-on-one interactions, in large organizations, in local school board debates, etc. When I ran into this kind of thing during my time as a humanities institute director, I never knew quite how to deal with it, so I usually wound up saying, “well, next time I’ll be sure to get in touch with you before there’s a draft proposal so that I can get your feedback” while thinking to myself, “actually, I’m getting the sense that you’re objecting to the fact that there’s a proposal on the table at all, and I don’t really expect that you’re going to be any more helpful next time around no matter when I ask you what you think, so I’m not sure I’m going to subject myself to this ritual again.”
Fortunately, in my directorin’ days those people were outnumbered by other people who would come up to me and say, “how about we invite A to campus” or “how about we do a symposium on B” or “how about we coordinate with C’s schedule and host the lecture and reception in the museum”—and they were always great suggestions. After a while I would say to such people, “kewl” or “ZOMG” while thinking to myself, “you pretty much have a blank check from me at this point, because everything you’ve ever suggested has worked out really well for everyone concerned.” I do love such people.