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Shrewsbury, Massachusetts – Besides the usual sections and columns in the morning newspaper there’s always a quote of the day, a wise or witty saying by a famous person that elicits a smile or a contemplative pause. Not long ago after looking at the Red Sox box score over a cup of coffee I came across an item that made me think back to several incidents in my life, not all of which were necessarily pleasant.
The article in question was advice once given by economist John Kenneth Galbraith who said “In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone.” Of course that’s a very cynical outlook so typical of economists I guess, but if you’re operating strictly in survival mode those are very good words to live by.
True leaders don’t think that way, as President Teddy Roosevelt once demonstrated by saying “I’d rather be right than President,” but of course he was from a wealthy family so could afford not to play it safe. As for the rest of us, discretion is certainly the better part of valor since smart asses may enjoy inner satisfaction but not much else. Pats on the back are often in reality kicks a little lower down.
The first occurrence that immediately came to mind was during Basic Training when in the Army, being instructed on the proper use of the rifle. There were about 200 GIs sitting on the ground and listening to a sergeant explain how to adjust the sites for different distances as well as to compensate for a rifle’s tendency to shoot too far to the right or left.
In the midst of the demonstration he asked the group which was the proper direction to adjust the front site if the rifle was shooting to the right of target, needing to aim the rifle more to the left, and everyone raised their hand to move the site to the left. Not me, for I alone raised my hand to adjust the site to the right. The sergeant looked at me and asked “do you think you’re correct and everyone else is wrong,” accompanied by many snickers from the group. Refusing to be intimidated I said that I had been wrong before and didn’t care how many disagreed. More laughs, but the others were silenced when the instructor said “he’s right,” meaning me of course. How sweet it was to smugly sit there knowing I had held to my conviction and had been vindicated. But pride is a terrible thing for afterwards instead of being congratulated for my bravery I was ostracized by one and all. Being right ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Naturally there was nothing on the line except my self-esteem, but another time there was much more at stake when attending a family dinner given by my employer, IBM, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. There I was, an unmarried fairly new employee sitting at a table with older company higher-ups and their wives. After the fruit cup a bowl of green turtle soup was served, something neither I nor any of the others had ever tasted. Dipping my spoon into the pea-soupy liquid I raised a green lump out of the ooze, and when putting it into my mouth found I had a slimy chunk of spicy-tasting goop on my tongue.
I could see by the expressions on the faces of my dinner companions that they were as disgusted by the sensation as was I, but fighting the urge to spit it back into the bowl I managed to swallow the thing without retching. One spoonful was more than enough as I politely put down the spoon and waited for the algae infested swill to be taken away.
I knew full well that had I been forthright and told the others how I felt they would have cringed at my honesty, so playing the safe card I merely went along with the rest and pretended that all was well despite my mild nausea. All in all I was still proud of the fact that I was at least able to keep that vile concoction down, even if I had compromised my integrity.