Wednesday, while listening to Gordon Sondland’s testimony in the Impeachment Inquiry as I drove to a doctor’s appointment for which I turned out to be five minutes and 24 hours late, I called my sister.
She picked up, 100 percent “That Annoyed Person Interrupted by an Unwanted Phone Call.”
“I’m trying to watch the Impeachment Inquiry,” she said. “Why aren’t you watching?”
“Because I’m watching the road,” I said. “I’m listening to it on the radio, though. Can you believe this guy?”
“You should see his expressions,” she said. “It’s either Smug Bro or Deer in the Headlights. And who doesn’t take notes?”
Not taking notes isn’t a completely alien concept to us. It’s just that we would feel completely wrong not doing it. Debby and I both started our professional lives as small-town daily newspaper reporters. She did it straight out of journalism school; I, as a single mother 12 years out of college who’d never taken a journalism class.
Between us, we’ve probably covered somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 meetings, to say nothing of the notes we took interviewing people for stories we wrote. We both still write professionally, and remain crazy note-takers.
Still, as I pulled my car into the parking structure for the doctor’s appointment I didn’t yet realize I’d missed, I realized hadn’t asked Debby’s question because I already knew the answer.
“He doesn’t take notes because he has people to do it for him,” I said, “and that’s what he was used to before he took this job. At his level, they just say the stuff. It’s someone else’s job to make sure it gets written down.”
Next was a discussion of his general intelligence. Debby was on the fence. I think he’s probably plenty smart. But intelligence – or its lack – isn’t the problem here. Hubris is.
I’m guessing it’s probably been decades since Sondland has heard any version of “That’s not a great idea,” “No,” or “You can’t do that.”
The reason, and again, I’m spitballing here, is that he’s probably the kind of guy who, early on, punished subordinates for telling him what they thought when he asked them.
People are not stupid, and word gets around. When someone has the power to fire you for telling them anything other than what they want to hear, you learn pretty quickly to tell them what they want to hear.
The ability to seek out the wisdom of trusted others and take it into account has served both Debby and I well. And when I say “trusted others,” I count my sister as one of the main people on that list. I think she’d say the same about me. Even though sometimes it sucks to feel that metaphorical bucket of ice water wash over your great idea or your latest piece of prose.
The payoff, though, is a more realistic sense of who you are and where the edges of your capabilities lie.
“I bet Gordon Sondland is really good at running a hotel chain,” I told Debby.
“Think about it,” I told her. “If you plopped either one of us into a kitchen and told us to put together a five course meal for eight or sat us down in front of a computer and told us to write 800 words about salmon migration or the history of chocolate, we could do it. But what would happen if you sat us in front of CAD software and told us to design a car? Or offered us an ambassadorship?”
Which, I realized as I was telling her that, is why the “Smug Bro/Deer in the Headlights” combo will never be in our portfolio of facial expressions.
“You’re right,” she said. “We’d know better. He’s totally out of his depth as an ambassador.”