Friday, February 29, 2008

Well isn't that Special?

So the other morning, on my way to the shower, I was thinking about the Duke of Medina Sidonia and George Washington. OK, that sounded a tad slashy, didn't it? Don't worry, though: I strive to make history exciting, but not that exciting.


Psst! You're supposed to say "So, uh... why were you thinking about Medina Sidonia, the commander of the Spanish Armada of 1588, and George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783 and first President of the United States?"

I'm glad you asked that question! And in such a fine, expository manner, too! Why, I think of the two men often because, odd as this may sound, I'm struck by their similarities: as a nobleman experienced in administering large estates, each was one of the very few men of his time qualified to command large-scale logistical operations; each had the ability to draw upon the resources of his homeland, a vast region whose participation in the coming conflict was absolutely crucial; and each was reduced at several times to writing desperate letters to other commanders who were supposed to be giving him support, but who instead decided not to associate themselves with one who looks to be the loser. There are more similarities, but this is all a story for a future entry.

As I was heading into the shower (again with the inspirations coming to me in the bathroom!) I was thinking of all this, and of how I should blog about it soon, and how I should also do entries about the similarities between Philip II and Henry VIII, and so on. Then a memory surfaced...

As Hugh steps into the shower, we zoom with a reverse dolly so that the background retreats. Insert reverse aging SFX so that Hugh is now 22 years younger. When we dolly in and zoom out, Hugh is standing in a hallway in his high school, looking on as Bob signs Hugh's yearbook.

In 1986, my sophomore year, Bob Cole was the salutatorian of his graduating class. He also played first trumpet in stage band. I played third trumpet, so I knew him about as well as a tremendously geeky sophomore could know an exceedingly together senior. He was a nice young man, and I'll bet he went on to become an outstanding member of his community. At the time of his graduation, though, he mostly just annoyed me. See, my friend Tony and I were totally into our own geeky little world, constantly quoting from whatever science fiction or advanced calculus or crude comedy routine we were into at the moment. Once or twice Bob expressed his irritation at this, saying that I should be bettering myself by reading biographies instead of wasting my time with these fictional worlds. He alluded to this in what he wrote in my yearbook. Now, to be fair, he wrote a lot and most of it was quite nice. The closing sentences were what annoyed me.
Fiction is interesting, but fact is where it's at. Remember also that you'll sleep one third of your life away. So don't waste time! Take care.

Bob Cole

Dick. That's what I thought at the time, and I stand by it. Now, don't get me wrong; we were high-schoolers, and all high-schoolers are dicks in some way or another, so it's absolutely no insult to Bob. Also, Bob was right: I should have been reading biographies. I wish I had been reading biographies. The ignorance I felt two decades later that motivated me to start learning history was a direct result of disregarding Bob's words. But Bob was wrong, too, and here's why: You don't get anywhere with people by preaching. Right or wrong, if you point out a person's deficiencies and tell them what they should be doing, it just ain't gonna work out well. And anyway, it's usually more about the ego of the one giving the advice than about the well-being of the one getting it. Regardless of all that, though, people simply don't take kindly to being told what to do. I want to go back to that moment and whisper in Bob's ear: Bob, don't tell him what to do. Not only is that not gonna work, it's gonna piss him off. If you want him to read history... tell him a story. Tell him a story about a king kneeling in a tiny room - a king who had the power to assemble the greatest Armada the world had ever seen, and hurl it across the ocean at his most bothersome foe, but who never stepped outside that room to meet his commanders, or to observe his vast armies, or to lay his hand on the prow of one of his mighty ships.

When I thought of all this - of how Bob was 100% correct in what he said but 100% wrong in his approach - something crystallized in my head, and I came up with another Law of The Pond Seeker. Now I have three of them, in descending order of priority, like with Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

  1. Learn.
  2. Share my enthusiasm.
  3. Don't preach. Do tell stories.

So I ain't gonna preach to ya. I'm gonna tell ya stories. If I do my job right, the rest will come on its own.

Next time: The story of that king.

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