Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beating The Bushes

Justin Martin & Claude VonStroke--"Beat That Bird" (mp3)

Sometimes people ask me what I do. I'm sure you've been in the same position. Regardless of our professions, there are always people who, while they may have heard our job titles before, have no idea what the actual job is behind that title.

Case in point: my blogging partner Billy is the Director of Communications here. He has held that position for seven or more years, I'd guess. He was the assistant director before that. And yet, day to day, hour to hour, I have no idea what he does. Not a criticism, just a mystery.

If you work with students, as I do, you discover that their questions are often clumsy and graceless. You usually get used to it. For example, they'll ask me things like, "What do you do all day?" or "Is this what you do all day?" or, as one of our most-entitled, least-aware seniors said to me a couple of weeks ago after camping out in my office for the better part of an hour, after eating my pretzels, after talking to me and to other students who were hanging out in here, too, and after most of all, meditating on my 12-string guitar, "I can't believe you get paid to do this!"

Do what? I pondered. Care for you? Tolerate you? Provide you a safe haven? Give you unconditional acceptance and a listening ear? Dad you?

Anyway, the circumstance lends itself to a variety of smartass answers to questions of what I do. "I run the school," I tell them sometimes. Or "I oversee every aspect of your school life" or "I'm responsible for everything that happens around you." They, of course, snort and shake their heads in disbelief. As they should. Sort of.

But I have another glib answer that offers its own kind of truth: I beat the bushes.

According to the Free Dictionary, the etymology of the expression is based "on the practice in hunting of having someone hit bushes with a stick in order to force birds hiding in them to fly up into the air to be shot." Though the practice is designed to enhance killing, it does make sense as a metaphor, not for the potential killing, but for the making birds fly against their will, at least initially.

Not to be confused with "beating around the bush," which can be a more roundabout way of exposing someone to danger.

Put the fact is that most people are initially reluctant to get involved in something. And these days we are also so nice that those of us who need help are equally reluctant to inconvenience others.

School life requires the lowest form of recruitment, which involves getting people to do things that they aren't necessarily inclined to do, things like planting trees on a Saturday morning or agreeing to serve on committees or leading summer reading groups or buy toys for poor children. There's nothing special to it. You just have to ask and ask and ask and ask.

You have to remind continually. You have to guilt. One of my favorite tactics is to send out my current partial list of people who are helping out, asking people to make sure that I have them listed. It forces others to look through the list, and, when they see who else is involved, that ol' guilt can kick in. One teacher sees that his friend is doing it. One team sees that another has gotten involved. The assistant sees that the head, or vice-versa, is represented and thinks it strategic that he also be part of it.

I'm not so cynical that I believe the people volunteer and help out for the basest of reasons. I have seen too much evidence to the contrary over the years. But if that's what it takes to get as many on board as I think we'll need, I'll use whatever manipulation necessary. Beating the bushes is a shameless occupation, and I'm good at it. I gaze with humor upon my "nicer" colleagues who can't close the deal because they not willing to be enough of a pain in the ass to get all up in people's grills and not give up.

It ain't like I'm trying to sell them cars. I just want them to help out.

1 comment:

Daisy said...

I love the use of dad as a verb.