Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

What If There Was No Gun?

Napa Valley, California, USA

Father's Day, June 17, 2007

I am indebted to Victoria Hamilton-Rivers and to Belva Shadwell who contributed material for this conversation.

A man I've known for many years, a friend of mine, was in a quandary. At the factory where he works, one of his colleagues kept a gun. Ordinarily, he said, he wouldn't be concerned about it, discarding for a moment his opinion about gun control, which is that gun control laws are too lax.

But he was  concerned. Ordinarily his concerns may have been alleviated if the weapon was licensed. This one wasn't - his colleague said so. Ordinarily his concerns may have been alleviated if the weapon was securely stored. This one wasn't - it lay in full view, in easy reach on his colleague's desk in an area often passed by school children visiting the factory. His concern, his dilemma (what - if anything - could he, should  he do about it?) was starting to interfere with his enjoyment of his work.

He was dithering. Actually it was more than that. I could see he was anxious too. He asked me whether I thought he was stepping over a line ie whether he shouldn't mind his own business  rather than ask his colleague to
  1. get the weapon licensed, and
  2. keep it safely secured out of children's sight and reach.
I said "I get your dilemma. On the one hand you're concerned about the gun. On the other hand you're concerned about interfering. By the way, I also  get (although you didn't say it) your concern about possible repercussions from your colleague.".

He said to me "I didn't ask you that. I didn't ask you if you got  my dilemma!". He said the word got  with a slightly sarcastic tone, yet he had a smile on his face. "I asked you whether you think I'd be stepping over the line, whether I shouldn't mind my own business rather than confront him about the gun.".

I said "I got  that too!". I also said the word got  back at him with a slightly sarcastic tone, yet I also had a smile on my face. "You want me to give you answers. You want me to tell you what to do. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to tell you what to do. I am, however, willing to be your committed listener. I'm willing to listen to you until you figure out for yourself what you're going to do about it.".

Something shifted for him right then and there. He relaxed, pursed his lips, and started coming up with different scenarios. He could confront his colleague. Not a good idea. Been done before. He could take the gun away. Better, but it's still stealing. He was flipping through options like he was searching through untidy piles of paper on his desk trying to find where he'd misplaced his electricity bill.

Then he stopped. His eyes widened. "I could tell the police" he said. He was leaning forward before. Now he was sitting bolt upright.

We were getting to the heart of the matter, yet I could tell he still anguished about this option. "What if I do  tell the police?" he asked.

"They'll probably cite him for carrying an unlicensed firearm" I said.

"What if I don't  tell the police?" he asked.

I replied "If that weapon ever hurts anyone, and you realize you were in a position to do something about it and prevent it happening and you didn't do anything about it, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. You could also ask the police to keep your name out of it when they confront your colleague. And if they say they can't, well then at least you know what your options are.".

After a minute, he said "I got it.". This time, there was no sarcastic intonation. We both smiled.

It was clear to me he was on the verge of a breakthrough. I could tell he already knew  he would go to the police. But what he hadn't yet gotten was who he is  in the matter of taking a stand.

Now thinking it through, he asked "If I tell the police, aren't I making trouble?".

Making trouble, ie whatever his considerations of making trouble were, was totally irrelevant. I said "Let's say, for argument's sake, there's a gun and you tell the police there's a gun. That would be a stand you take. You'd be taking a stand for safety. There's no question about it. If you saw a fire had started in the factory, you'd immediately sound a fire alarm, wouldn't you? If the factory was on fire, you wouldn't consider sounding a fire alarm to be making trouble, would you? It's really a matter of your integrity, isn't it? If the factory was on fire, you'd immediately sound a fire alarm. Just like that, you could tell the police about the gun.".

I continued. "But what if there was no gun? Let's say, for argument's sake, there wasn't a gun but you tell the police there's a gun. Telling the police in and of itself isn't making trouble. If there's a gun and you tell the police there's a gun, that's just what's so. But if there's no  gun and you tell the police there's a gun, now that would  be making trouble. In fact, it would make more trouble for you than it would for him.".

Another slow minute ticked by. Then his lips cracked the faintest  smile. He slowly nodded his head, saying softly "I do get it.". And get it he did. I could tell. He got it in the way people get something when it's so complete, so clean  in their listening that there's actually nothing left to say. The silence hung velvety in the air between us.

He had distinguished for himself where he would be being inauthentic. I could hear it in his speaking. I could see it on his face. In the space of distinguishing the inauthenticity, the possibility of authentically taking a stand became available.

Two Weeks Later

I saw him two weeks later. Although eager to learn what happened, I feigned a certain nonchalance. "Well?" I asked, after we'd made an appropriate amount of small talk, "did you tell the police?". "I did!" he said. "And???  ...". I let the pregnant question hang in the air.

He told the police about the gun. He asked for his confidentiality to be protected since he feared repercussions. The police agreed. He explained he wasn't trying to make trouble for his colleague. He was, however, concerned about everyone's safety, especially the safety of the school children who visit the factory.

The next time my friend saw his colleague, his colleague told him the police had confronted him and confiscated his gun. He was completely oblivious to the fact it was my friend who told the police about the gun. The police issued him a citation for carrying an unlicensed firearm.

"Oh really?" said my friend, keeping his joy to himself that the situation had been handled equitably, "What was it like?". His colleague said he'd been mildly embarrassed, but was quite relieved the citation against him wasn't a whole lot worse.

"Great!" I said. There's no moral  to this story, I told him. It's useful, however, to notice if you take a stand for integrity, you may tread on some toes. And if you do, the place to look for what's next to do is to your stand, not to the toes.

He laughed. I could see a great burden had lifted off him. He was enjoying his work again.

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