Thursday, May 23, 2013

Three steps to stay out of trouble

In a story that sounds better suited to a Leon Schuster prank than a CNN report, a local game ranger this week lost his job after he charged an elephant in the wild. Yip, the man charged the elephant. Ever since reading "Kringe in a Bos" during matric, I'm wary of getting to close to those feisty mammals, even when safely behind the bull-bar of our ubiquitous red Condor. I cannot imagine what would prompt an adult (a game ranger at that) to scream and hurtle headlong, hands flailing, directly at a massive bull elephant.
Apparently the answer is a cocktail of beer and, to quote the guy in question, "45 seconds of foolishness". Losing his head for under a minute had him lose a job built on twenty years of passion for wildlife.
Are you laughing yet?
Not so fast.
I mean, what he did was remarkably dumb, but do we never mess-up in a just a few seconds that undomonths or years of value? We might slip an insult at a good friend, embrarrass our spouse or alienate our child with half a minute's lapse of thinking.
How does that happen? How do mature adults- business leaders, professionals, academics- do things that are just plain inane?
We get caught up "in the moment". We forget who we are or where we are or where things could lead or the fact that someone might Facebook the photos of our idiocy. In the company of partying peers, in the heat of the moment, or "under the influence" our awareness levels switch off just long enough for us to behave recklessly.  
We usually can't catch ourselves once the inertia takes us over the edge of sanity, even as our spouse (or a friend) mouths that we're getting out of hand.  But, we can train to stay focused in the first place. This week's chapter of Pirkei Avos opens with a three-point plan to keep yourself out of trouble: "Remember where you come from, where you are going and who you will be answerable to". 
"Where you come from" means remember who you are. A follower of the first Chabad Rebbe would often say that, if he felt tempted to sin, he would remind himself that such behaviour would be beneath the dignity of a student of such an illustrious rabbi. Likewise, Joseph would have sinned with Potiphar's wife had he not seen a vision of his father's face; a clear reminder of his responsibility to his heritage. These people knew where they "came from" and that helped them stay focused.   
A valuable priority is to regularly think about "where you are going?". Having personal objectives is extremely important. We may dream of communal prestige, business recognition or personal growth. An athlete pre-event would never compromise his shot at gold by eating all the wrong stuff on the night before the event. A businessman who had worked for months to close a deal would surely not stop off for a quick fourball when he is due to meet with this prospective partners. If we have a strong sense of personal direction, we surely would not compromise our goals for a few moments of fun. 
And, even when nobody is around to see our nonsense, we should remember that, at some point, we will be answering to someone. Even a "perfect crime", (like the fascinating case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loebcomes to light, often quicker than we'd like to believe.
Remember where you come from, where you're headed and who may find out what you've done and you won't find yourself charging elephants in the wild. 

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