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The Truth, Mainly - 07/28/1997

The way to advise executives: Tell them what they want to hear

I'm driving west on I-80 when I make an executive decision.

"You can be my advisory commission," I tell my wife. "You can give me advice on where we should stop to eat."

"You're sharing power with me?" she says. "Am I worthy?"

"Well, it's not really sharing power," I say. "You're only an advisory commission. But I'm the family executive and, per the Book of Genesis, I'm supposed to rule over thee. It's not a role I seek, God knows, but I'm scripturally free to follow your advice or ignore it, as I choose."

"Of course," she says, batting her eyes submissively. "You're a man. I'm a woman. Whatever was I thinking?"

"I'm glad you see it that way," I say, reaching over to pat her on the head. "What a compliant helpmate you are. Well worth the rib."

We drive on in silence for a few miles. She speaks.

"As your advisory commission," she says, "I have supper advice."

"Attagirl," I say.

"My advice is that we avoid greasy fast food," she says. "My advice is that we stop at a nice non-franchise sit-down restaurant where someone comes to our table and asks us what we'd like to eat."

"Sorry," I say. "That advice is contrary to family monetary policy. As an advisory commission, you can't give advice contrary to policy."

"Oh," she says with a bit of an edge in her voice. "The Genesis thing again."

We drive on a few more miles in silence. She speaks.

"This monetary policy," she says, "is it another manifestation of that tight little wad you have where a woman's heart would be? Or is your testosterone acting up again?"

"Don't go beyond your mandate," I say. "It's not your role to question how policy is made. Your role is to give advice."

"I gave advice," she says. "My advice is to stop at a restaurant where they bring real food on real plates."

"You can't give that advice," I say. "It's contrary to policy."

"How, she asks, "can I give you my best advice if I can't advise you to do anything you haven't already decided you want to do? That is what Henry James called tampering with my flute then finding fault with my music."

"I don't understand Henry James," I say, "and you don't understand advisory commissions. Check out this story in the July 15 Journal-Star which I just happen to have under my seat cushion."

It's a story about Cathy Kingery and Kay Siebler resigning from the Lincoln-Lancaster Women's Commission because, they say, Mayor Mike Johanns has turned the body into "The Mayor's Commission on the Subjugation of Women." The Mayor says Kingery and Siebler don't understand that the commission is only an advisory body and can't take positions contrary to city policy. And it can't "advocate an extreme minority agenda."

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That's an agenda that includes questioning the Lincoln Public Schools policy against discussing condoms as a way to prevent AIDS, that includes co-sponsoring Lincoln Pride Fest and opposing University of Nebraska-Lincoln fraternity cross-burnings.

"So," my wife says, "the only advice the commission can give is advice that agrees with policies already in effect?"

"Bingo," I say. "Your advice to eat in a more expensive place advocates an extreme minority agenda. As an executive, It's nicer that way. We can reach amiable consensus without any of that messy confrontation. Pretty neat, don't you think?"

"Sounds like a slick way to co-opt the opposition," she says. "Put them on advisory commissions where they aren't allowed to say anything disagreeable to the advisee."

I ignore that and we eat in a greasy fast food joint just off the Ogallala exit. While I'm in the john, she leaves a tip. While I retrieve it, she pulls off a coup d'etat: She beats me to the driver's seat.

"Now you're my advisory commission," she says. "Give advice."

"Let's stay at the El Roacho motel across the border," I say. "It's cheap."

"Inadmissable advice," she says. "Don't want to hear it. The new housing policy is to stay only where the bugs don't. It'll cost a lot more."

"Play fair," I whimper. "Read Genesis. Submit to authority."

She snorts and guns the car out of the fast food lot, spinning a spray of gravel behind us. She's a woman out of control.

If cell phones weren't such an extravagance, I'd call the Mayor's Hotline.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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