Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bigger Than Ourselves

David Brooks and I don’t see eye-to-eye on much. He’s a columnist for The New York Times but he’s a little too conservative for my tastes. He wrote a great column yesterday. If you would, take the time to read it now. I’ll wait.

What Life Asks of Us

”The rules of a profession or an institution are not like traffic regulations. They are deeply woven into the identity of the people who practice them. A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to her sport, a farmer’s relation to her land is not an individual choice that can be easily reversed when psychic losses exceed psychic profits. Her social function defines who she is. The connection is more like a covenant. There will be many long periods when you put more into your institutions than you get out. “

If you read that column -- and it strikes chord with you -- perhaps you can understand the hatred controllers feel for the current FAA management. To meet the demands of their profession, controllers change everything. We change the way we think, the way we talk, the way we write, spell, type, the way we sleep -- everything. Controllers try to spell Nashville with a “B” -- BNA. They’ll trip up and end a phone conversation with their operating initials -- “Alpha Bravo” -- even when talking to their wives. The profession demands habitual perfection.

The FAA’s management demands that perfection but does not respect it. The FAA’s leaders don’t demand anything close to that same perfection of themselves and they have destroyed the profession, not once, but twice.

Make no mistake about it, the wounds the profession of Air Traffic Controller has suffered in these last 877 days are every bit as grievous as the wounds suffered in the PATCO strike in 1981. I’m not speaking of the individuals (as deep as those wounds are) -- I’m speaking of the profession.

There is a lot of lip service being paid to controllers at the moment. Transportation Secretary LaHood says that making peace with the controllers will be a priority. Public perception being what it is, I’m sure most people will be focusing on money. That is unavoidable (money is important) but someone needs to focus on the profession. That somebody won’t be FAA management. At least not the current management. They don’t respect the profession. They keep trying to destroy it.

”Lack of institutional awareness has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior “

”...and the result was not liberation but self-destruction.“

Don Brown
January 27, 2009

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