Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Deference dangers

Your plane is more likely to crash if the senior officer is at the controls at that moment than if a junior officer is. This is a surprise given you’d expect the senior officer to be more competent and have more flying hours. But it is a fact identified in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The story of success and his agent’s publicity has been excellent because I’ve come across it several times on the radio and in print in the last week. And it is deference which seems to be the problem.

If someone junior is at the controls then colleagues and the senior officer will have no hesitation in alerting him or her to a dial reading or a danger. If the boss is at the controls other people may assume that he or she knows what he or she is doing, or simply be less willing to be seen to criticise. The extreme example quoted often from Gladwell’s book was revealed in a cockpit recording following a Korean air crash in which the extreme deference of the culture meant the junior officers are heard only to hint very obliquely that something might be going wrong.

I posted a passage of Rowan Williams’ on 10th November which mentioned ‘the spiritually damaging effects of hierarchy and deference’ which may be why I’ve noticed Gladwell’s point being repeated inn the media.

Receiving criticism graciously and appropriately is one thing. Simply seeking to remember to respond to justified criticism with ‘thank you, I hadn’t spotted that, it is useful when people point out things like that’ is difficult, but spotting when one is not even being offered the justified criticism is more difficult still.

Giving criticism is another thing, and I'm even further away from mastering the art of doing that graciously and appropriately. ‘Telling the truth in love’ can be cover for Christian ineptitude, dislike and manipulation, but, when it isn’t, it is must be much safer than deference. Some clergy have created publicity by banning I vow to thee my country at church services. Each time such a story emerges I make a point of picking it for the following Sunday, and was glad to tell something of the story of the hymn on Remembrance Sunday last month. Nevertheless, I think the hymn gets it wrong with the line ‘the love that asks no questions’; the down side to the unquestioning obeying of orders must be one of the lessons of the twentieth century.

The picture of dawn is taken from our kitchen window.

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