Sunday, January 11, 2015

Learning Shit the Hard Way- The Sunday Collage

Today I am going to beat myself up a little bit. If you are uncomfortable with grown men telling on themselves- then you will probably not want to read on. Having gotten that piece of business out of the way, let's start here...

Growing up in Montana meant spending my entire life surrounded by guns and hunting. I think I can safely say that as a young man, I was obsessed with hunting and shooting. In my spare time, that's all I did. I can't even begin to estimate how many rounds I've put down range. So I've spent a lot of time around guns.
In my early 20's, I simply gave up on hunting. Honestly, I was tired of dealing with posted land, hordes of hunters, and cleaning things I never ate. When I entered law enforcement school in the early 80's, shooting handguns became a regularly scheduled event. Police officers shoot a lot. 

I think as I look back, the worst year of my life was probably 1987. Everything went wrong that year. A friend of mine said my moon was in retrograde Mercury that year or some other nonsense. To be quite honest, sometimes I think I was just unprepared for adulthood. Or maybe I'm just a knucklehead, a little A.D.D., and sometimes a little careless. So whatever blend of cosmic soup I am- came calling one afternoon on the firing range in 1987. I was 26 years old that year and I was at peak cockiness.

It was the first day of a three day training exercise where we would each shoot a 1000 rounds or so. We had been shooting all day on various courses with an FBI swat team leader. There were about 30-40 police officers in attendance. We were shooting Beretta 92's in 9mm which was a relatively new handgun in the 80's. We had shot our way through some targets and combat courses and I could feel my action and slide sticking on my Beretta during the early afternoon exercise. I hadn't experienced any jams or stovepipes yet and I didn't have time to clean the gun. So instead of just field stripping the gun and cleaning it- I sprayed a bunch of lubricant on the gun, Break Free, and inserted a full magazine. I racked a round into the chamber which cocks the hammer on a 92. That's when it happened. Instead of simply using the de-cocking lever to let the hammer down- I tried to hold on to it with my thumb while pulling the trigger- a very bad habit I had learned while shooting .45 caliber Colt 1911's. The hammer slipped because of the Break Free I had sprayed everywhere and the gun went off. I had the barrel pointed at the ground and downrange thankfully, and the round struck a couple of feet in front of me. I had a few fellow cops standing around me-who all seemed to vanish in an instant. About 40 heads turned my way.

There is nothing more embarrassing than an accidental discharge unless of course it is an accidental discharge in front of 40 of your peers and the FBI swat team. I have never felt so lonely as I did in the moments right after that happened.   

To say that I was teased unmercifully for the next two days is an understatement. The FBI swat leader called me "Quick Draw." He said anytime he was on a mission he wanted me along because he knew I would get the first shot off. During camouflaged operations they handed me a white sheet. I can take some teasing. By the third day though, I had had enough. There is a line somewhere between funny and malicious and I'm not sure when and where it gets crossed. I blew off the final afternoon's exercise. I was starting to get a little pissed.

In those days, I was very competitive. I hated to lose, or do stupid things, and I had a big ego. I was one of those kinds of guys that when I screwed up- it made everyone else a little happy- if you know what I mean. Let's just say nobody shed a tear for me. I took a healthy dose of shame and ridicule, a shit sandwich if you will, and I ate it back then. I have tried very hard not to order that menu item again.

Last week at work, I had a dual cargo shipment that had to leave at night. Both shipments had 10 boxes on them. One shipment was going to Oregon by ground, the other shipment was going to Arizona by air. I mixed them up and sent each shipment through the wrong carrier. It was a careless mistake. I wished I had a decent excuse but I don't. I was in a hurry to go home and I just didn't pay attention. The mistake cost my employer 1200 bucks and it has caused me some embarrassment. Right after it happened- my boss said that from now on shipments will be returned to our dock and labelled before shipping. This is a tremendous waste of time and a pain in the ass for the other drivers. Punishing co-workers because I am an idiot did not sit too well with me. I told the boss it would never happen again. The change in policy was not needed because making serious mistakes is how people learn. It is most certainly- how I learn.

Do you think there's one chance in hell this will ever happen again? Of course not. I could be on my death bed comparing dimensions and weights with bills of lading or talking to the shipper before I go through this embarrassment again. That's not to say I am incapable of making other mistakes, in fact I know myself well enough to say that I will in fact, make other mistakes. It's a pattern that's been evolving now for 54 years and I am beginning to think that it is something beyond coincidence or bad luck.

For all of my faults, and they are plenty, failing to learn from my mistakes is not one of them. So whether it's getting embarrassed in front of 40 of your peers- or getting embarrassed at work in front of your co-workers (not to mention the shipper who I owe an apology to) I learn rather quickly. I no longer possess an ego that can't take responsibility for the fact that I screw up from time to time.

The point of telling you all of this- is simply that people screw up and make mistakes. Feeling shame and embarrassment cures about 95% of the problem immediately.  It isn't the screw up that really matters- unless you injure or hurt someone else- but rather how management reacts to those incidents. That's the real point of all of this self disclosure today.

I'm talking about innocent, well intentioned mistakes- not careless, deliberate, or malicious acts which indeed call for more serious discipline.

For all of the injuries and deaths that occur on shooting ranges each year- law enforcement- will never say..."Ya know these guns are dangerous. Let's quit carrying them and stop using them. Let's get rid of them so that we may never suffer a potential injury on the range."

Making a knee jerk management decision based on the actions of one knucklehead is almost always wrong. Evaluating policy, training, and management's role when a mistake happens allows managers to focus on the appropriate issues once they are satisfied that they are not to blame. Determining what type of mistake was made and then determining the appropriate response- well that is simply the hallmark of experienced, sound, and wise management- and getting harder to find. These days- management never takes responsibility for their role when mistakes are made- which quite often, is the result of inadequate training. In Idaho, we have kind of a sociopathic management style brought about by our right to work status. Here the employee is always wrong and easily fired with no repercussions because of our "at will" status. A lot of good people have gotten screwed over by sociopathic managers in Idaho.

People make mistakes, that's what we do. Back in the day, I used to tell the press that as a Chief I made mistakes everyday. I could have always been a little kinder, a little gentler, a little more empathetic. Every situation was an opportunity for improvement and I like to think that I was a work in progress and getting better. Today I have to be careful when admitting mistakes-it almost looks like I am celebrating them or at worst- kind of glib or flippant when they happen. I've reached a level of acceptance and responsibility that I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with.

I wish I had known all of this when I was a young guy and then I think, "No, I think it's better this way. What's the point of life if we don't learn anything from it?"

I think everybody has to learn shit the hard way. I am still waiting to meet the person who doesn't- ya know that guy that enjoys being told what to do and then does it. If you meet him please tell me about him-I have a lot of questions to ask.



Unknown said...

There's an old example of this sort of thing that rings similar. Something like a switchman lets a train through, some sort of disaster, switchman doesn't lose his job, big public outcry followed by the boss saying -that is one switchman that won't make that mistake again.

Frankenstein Government said...

Too funny. Yea when people get hurt or injured that's a whole different matter. I heard that same metaphor using the guy who fell asleep at Chernobyl.

PeterE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PeterE said...

Effectively what you're saying is that some time between November and now you had a birthday. In a November post you were only 53. Now suddenly you're 54.

Frankenstein Government said...

This is true. Good observation Peter. I am a Sagittarius.


Compleat Patriot said...

Well hell this is easy, I was mistake that ended up being born. lol...