Lesson Five: Remembering the Alamo doesn’t have to mean defeat

Cruising to San Antonio – a short drive that day, less than three hours from desolate Sonora – I listened to my offspring share what they knew about the history of the Alamo.

“It’s like 300 only in the Southwest and there were only 200 of them.”

“The guy in the ‘coon hat died there.  I’m going to get one of those hats.”

“Davy Crockett, stupid.”

I’ll give them credit: they remembered more details… that the historic battle lasted 90 minutes, that there’s speculation that Davy Crockett didn’t die in battle at all, but was actually executed afterwards… and that the famous battle cry from Sam Houston a month later – Remember the Alamo! – reclaimed Texian victory in just 18 bloody minutes.

But the comparison with 300 caught my attention… tragic, gut-ripping defeats that, like a classic kung-fu drama, leaves no one alive.  Why does that appeal to us?  What draws us towards the fight we know we can’t win? We flock to the movies that tell these stories… and often times, we willingly enter into office drama and politics with parallel effect.

Martyrdom, Tragedy and Utter Disaster
Ok, so maybe you’re not fleeing your formica desk and Dell laptop (or perhaps maple and Macbook) for a fatal engagement on the battlefield with your flintlock… but then again, maybe you are.  We walk into situations every day where we can’t win. How do you handle Captain Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru scenario? Captain James T. Kirk took the opportunity to “alter the parameters of the game”  and win the un-winnable.  We find ourselves in these situations – sometimes by choice, sometimes we are pushed – and what we do next is the difference between your Alamo or your Kobayashi Maru moment.
Last year I wrote about intentional pauses – in dialogue and decision making.  When walking into the no-win scenario, these pauses determine just how you lose: there is martyrdom, such as the Alamo and 300, there is pure tragedy, as in Curse of the Golden Flower and House of Flying Daggers,  and there is utter disaster likeThe Battle of Cannae and the Bay of Pigs (these, while they are certainly tragedies, the tactical and military mis-steps overshadow everything else).  The best possible outcome? That you situate yourself think like James Kirk and change the game at hand.

That’s what a pause can do for you.  Before you react to an unfair criticism, before you offer an opinion that is unsolicited, before you step into an escalating debate as peacemaker… pause. Is what you’re about to say Right Speech, (Right Speech is the third of the eight-fold path in Buddhism)?  Right Speech is spoken at the right time, in truth, with compassion, for a benefit and with the intent of goodwill.  That’s five simple but powerful rules.  The world would be a much quieter place if we all adhered to even three of those five rules.

Lesson Five: Remembering the Alamo doesn’t’ have to mean defeat
For a benefit is key.  In our daily mini-Alamos or Kobayashi Marus, what is the outcome you hope to achieve with your next words? To avoid martyrdom, tragedy or utter defeat, what needs to be said?  I believe in speaking your mind and being yourself. But I have also learned the lesson – multiple times and I am still learning it – that taking that pause and carefully considering impact of my next word or action can either trigger the major battle or diffuse it.

Whether you walk into an ambush or are pushed into the middle of a political drama, take a moment to think of Captain Kirk crunching into that apple while everyone around him was in a tizzy.  He wasn’t going to play their game and he wasn’t going to play it their way.  You can kill anger with kindness… you can also crush a passive-aggressive attack with a show of force.  Which you choose to use, how you choose the change the game, depends entirely on what’s happening in your Kobayashi Maru moment and who your other players are.  So pause. Pay attention. And use your Right Speech with deliberation.

Davy Crockett and King Leonidas didn’t have the option of words in a cubicled workplace or over a conference room table.  And what drove them to un-winnable situation were broader themes of glory and political independence.  Well, in our mini-Alamos, we also fight for recognition and kudos, and we navigate office politics.  Fortunately, no one’s standing there with a musket or spear… but some days it feels like it, doesn’t it?

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