When Are You Going To Land?
American academia is often criticized for being a shell of what it once was. A place where dissenting opinions are squashed, real-world skills are ignored, and ultra-specific grievance studies reign supreme. And oftentimes this is true.
But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes a university setting is so enriching, so stimulating, that it allows for seemingly-impossible problems to be solved. Yesterday was one of those times.
This is a story about the importance of collaboration and informed decision making, something that I hope you all can learn from, regardless of your walk of life.
Yesterday, my roommate and I found ourselves in a difficult argument. I have no idea how this came up, but we needed to know whether my roommate would be able to tackle and pin down Sir Elton John.
It was a dilemma for a number of reasons. There are very good arguments for both sides, and every time I felt I was leaning one way, I found myself pulled in another direction. On one hand, my roommate is obviously younger, faster, and slimmer than Elton John, which should give him the advantage in a physical contest. But he also does not work out, or show any interest in strength. So it’s very possible that he would not have the muscle to knock down the “Tiny Dancer” composer. We also determined that Elton John likely has fantastic reflexes, given his unbelievable piano playing. And he is still touring at the top of his game, so it is unlikely that those reflexes have diminished. But do those outweigh the age advantage? It was an impossible decision to make on one’s own.
This kept us distracted through most of our morning classes, and as the afternoon came to a close, we found ourselves no closer to a consensus. So last night, I convened a brain trust at our apartment. We invited five of our most trusted friends over, and spent over an hour discussing the issue.
While we all attend an art-focused school in Boston, our fields of study are quite different, which proved advantageous. Around the table we had a TV writer, two actors, a journalist, an SFX makeup artist, a dramaturg, and a speech therapist. I truly believe that having this diversity of perspective allowed reason to prevail.
Parameters had to be clearly defined. For the sake of the discussion, my roommate would not be in a fight to the death with Elton John, where stamina might be a factor. He would simply have one chance to run towards the songwriter and tackle him. If he failed, that would be the end of it. Elton John would be fully aware of this (so the element of surprise would not be a factor), and he would not be trying to pin my roommate. His sole focus would be not getting pinned.
My friend the makeup artist pointed out that Elton John has a tendency to wear elaborate costumes, equipped with feathers and jewels and such. She argued that such an outfit would make him harder to tackle, because it would add weight. But the journalist at the table added that his accessories would be easy to grab onto and pull him down, an argument that seemed to favor my roommate.
Also brought up was the fact that it takes much more technique to pin somebody than it does to prevent someone from pinning you. Neither men have any experience with wrestling, but all Elton John would have to do is firmly plant his feet and avoid his attacker. My roommate would likely have to demonstrate more technical precision to win the contest, something that works in Elton’s favor.
After every possible angle was explored, it was time for a vote. As I found myself presiding over everything, I voted last.
As I watched the show of hands around the table, my heart sank. This was the scenario I’d been dreading. The vote was 3-3, and I was the tiebreaker.
I thought back to everything we had discussed that day, all of the dissenting-but-civil opinions I had heard. While I consider my roommate a dear friend, I realized that facts had to come before personal loyalty. I determined that Elton John’s low center of gravity, combined with my friend’s lack of wrestling skills, made this a lost cause. I reluctantly voted “nay.”
I don’t doubt that my roommate’s feelings were hurt, but everyone left feeling confident in the process, if not the outcome. Turns out that the critical thinking methods they teach us in class really do have real world applications.
I hate to fall back on cliches, but there really is something to be said for assembling a diverse group of people you trust, listening to everyone’s opinion, and letting democracy do the rest. As you find yourselves faced with workplace disputes this week, let my story be a lesson in how to do things the right way.