Of course this story is apocryphal. Scenarios have been changed to protect the fuzzy-thinking. But it brings up a recurrent theme in discussions about information professionals. Suffice it to say, in the national consciousness, our profession does not seem like the prime target market for hardhat sales or for any other safety gear. Even among ourselves, we rarely consider our profession as a band of “devil take the hindmost” risk-takers. We may fall into harm’s way or get pushed into it, but we rarely march into it willingly.
In short, when people think of librarians or information professionals — if they do think of us — the word “wimps” comes to mind. And, sad to say, too often that term is accurate. Sad, because in these revolutionary times, no one in our line of work can afford to be a wimp or to be seen as a wimp. Like it or not, reality has blockaded all the safe harbors for our little fleet. We have to ride out the storms if we ever hope to see home – or a decent retirement facility — again.
Now let’s get something clear at the outset. It’s not that I have anything against wimping out per se. I have wimped out myself many times in the past (well, not that many) and fully expect to wimp out again in the future. The problem lies when wimping out becomes not a deliberate decision, but a behavior pattern, even a character trait. For then you become predictable, and that makes you vulnerable. Withdrawing from a conflict you cannot win or cannot afford to fight may make a lot of sense, but when you let the world know that you will always choose flight over fight, then your status as an easy target may actually draw the very fire you hoped to avoid. And, of course, since you expect to lose and have never prepared yourself for conflict, when conflict finally comes, you have little or no chance of winning. But even if open conflict does not break out, you will still have to learn to live with all the little daily indignities suffered by most doormats. You may find more and more of your creative energies absorbed in generating fantasies to protect your degraded self-image, instead of facing the world with confidence and working to solve real problems.
So how do you turn it around when you feel wimpiness stealing up on you? Let’s take a quick course in what a colleague of mine calls “Wimpology.” The best cure I’ve found to defend against the onset of wimpiness is Truth, specifically seeking it on your own, forming a clear and personal vision of the world around you. Wimps do not look at the world from their own eyes, they look at it from the eyes of others. Two animals on the Serengeti — one a lion, the other a zebra. The lion decides it’s hungry and thinks that yon zebra would make a tasty dish. The zebra recognizes the lion’s intent and gallops away to find its herd, hoping that a buffet of zebras may eliminate its selection as the entrée du jour. Pretty soon all the zebras in sight are fleeing from the lion. The point is that the lion sets the agenda, the zebra just reacts.
Look at the world around you all by yourself. Is that particular information source truly valuable or merely well-hyped? Does that service everyone uses really offer the best search engine and the best content at the best price? Does that prominent Net newbie seem stable enough? Do your clients really ask the right questions to satisfy their information needs? Does your boss’ boss really know what you do or what you could do if you had the resources and the authority? Could radical change bring about radical improvement? Is it time to sacrifice the familiar to bring that radical change about?
Again, a caveat. The opinions of others do matter. Others may know something you need to know. In any case, the opinions of others — right or wrong — form a part of the truth you pursue, of the world you seek to understand. But you don’t default to the opinions of others. You don’t just identify direction and speed and start running with the herd. You judge the judgment of others independently. Sometimes, your judgment will lead you away from conflict; sometimes, it will lead the charge into the fray. But the more you use your own judgment, the stronger it gets and the more you can trust it.
One odd paradox continues to puzzle the expert Wimpologist — backward bravery. Many people who look wimpy actually lead lives of great daring. Some may move into radical new technologies, but still classify themselves in terms of the preceded technology — “The librarian will be with you in a moment. She’s teaching a Webmaster class.” Some may go from traditional, salaried day jobs into running their own businesses, but still wonder about their professional status — “I’m so sorry to bother you, but this SLA/ALA/AALL/etc. survey form doesn’t seem to have an option for the self-employed.”
Bravery on a grand scale is absolutely frightening. Courage, the habit of bravery, can seem totally awesome. But one can learn. First, do one right thing, then one slightly risky thing. Now how about a very right action followed by a definite risk-taking? And finally let’s get started on that purely righteous deed launching an attack on a whole new challenge. One sort of backs away from wimpiness, at first casting nervous glances over one’s shoulder at Truth and Reality. After a while one starts to pick up speed and to turn towards the light. And, in time, one marches forward firmly and rapidly.
Now is the time to rise to the occasion. Examine your life and the world around you. Form sound judgments. Act upon those judgments. Make things happen. Take a strong stance. Hold to high standards. Ally with other brave souls, comrades in arms. Walk tall. Take pride in yourself and the way you practice your profession. And if you have long left wimp-hood behind you, help more encumbered colleagues lift their eyes toward the light.
But if the siren
call of wimpiness persists, just remember this. It’s the same call the
lemmings hear on their march to the sea. These are radical times. No conservative
strategies will work. It’s quick or dead, brave or slave.