Broken

The other evening I was watching an episode of NOVA with my family. The subject of the program was ship disasters and what causes them. The obvious choice of conversation was the Titanic and the Costa Concordia which both sank for similar reasons. They both ran into objects more solid than their hulls and took on water in ways the ships were unprepared to compensate for. The ships both had very strong skins designed with one or two linings. But those were compromised. They both had leaders who, it has been argued, placed the ships into positions which that were likely to fail. The ones who paid the highest price were the ones inside the ships. Many of which had no idea what was coming and were ill prepared to handle the doom that awaited them.

Then, some days later, I was listening to a radio show that described the consequences and potential folly of failed security. The subject was about privacy and leaks of secure information. The show mentioned Edward Snowden and his efforts to expose the teraflops of information about us currently in the hands of people we don’t know and in at least some cases have not the foggiest idea they have it. The conversation turned on the issue of leaking such information to the people.

I saw a connection. What exactly is a leak?

In its essential form, a leak is when there is a breach of trust or a failure of faith in something or someone.

When a plumber installs a pipe, the intention is to connect a homeowner to a trusted source with an equally trustworthy product into his or her secure home. A breach of the pipe, whatever its contents, is a leak. We trusted so much. The utility provider. The pipe. The plumber. The product in the pipe. The appliance the pipe is attached to. The home the pipes are run into and through. So much trust and faith in others. But somewhere along the line, in that maze of copper, lead, and brass a failure of trust occurred. The pipe may have swollen because the homeowner was supposed to turn on the heat, but didn’t and so the pipe froze and burst. The fitting may have failed because the plumber didn’t apply the correct amount or type of solder. The utility had a surge of supply beyond the pipes capacity and exceeded its design strength. The appliance failed to shut off correctly and allowed the product in the pipes to run unchecked. These are all leaks. These are all breaches of established or assumed trust.

Assumed trust. Breach of faith. Failed security. Compromised hulls.

These are all leaks.

These are all what we fear will happen with our vital information. So we add passwords, security checks, retina verifications, fingerprint identification. Anything we can to restore or eatable trust or faith in something other than ourselves. But it doesn’t always work. It’s not always fail safe. In fact on a daily basis I we learn truths about just how vulnerable we are to a sufficiently motivated “other.”

So what’s a leak? It’s when our faith or trust in something or someone fails. It’s not just when the pipe bursts. It’s not just when the NSA collects data and the sealed lid they created is exposed as vulnerable. It’s not only when the Target, Home Depot or any other retailer in the news recently, loses control of your account numbers or passwords. It’s not just when Nixon taps a political adversaries line, or the NSA taps the German chancellors. It’s not just when that Ziploc bag you bought unzips and spurts the contents in your purse. It’s deeper than that.

Much deeper.

It’s when you trusted enough to give of yourself to someone or something. When you allowed yourself to be vulnerable just long enough to connect with something you need or like or love. And then that trust is broken.

That is a leak.

Unexpectedly homeless.

“.. So this says I’m homeless, right?”

I received a call from a fellow worker who said they suspected an apartment was illegal and the person living in there may not know it. I approached the situation as I normally do. Somewhat dispassionately because getting wrapped up in the personal side of a situation like this can skew a feeling persons approach.

I do understand why doctors try to be clinical at their approach. Sometimes choosing not to look at their patient in order to curtail a real relationship. It could cause them to lose focus and do more than is required or warranted. Making decisions that would affect the quality of life beyond the reach of medicine. In my line of work, a career hazard can be caring so much for the occupant of the structure that the people inside begin to question the sanity, motivation (or worse) or the competency of the inspector.

So I try my very best to be even, level, fair, consistent. No one job should get a higher level of attention than the last unless the project itself warrants it. Regardless of the election results. The social strata. The economic clout. The code is the code and applies across the board because it’s not about cost. It’s about life. Money is not important. Only life is important.

So I went to the identified home and discovered that there was indeed too few ways to escape if the worst happened. The history was documented well enough to establish fault, but my goal was not to place blame. My goal was to preserve life. My co workers goals are the same. So we set about our jobs and pressed on.

Notices go out. Emails are sent. Phone calls are made. Hands are shaken. Pleasantries exchanged. No one is a real winner in this and can I see that from the beginning.

The process takes over as the people cast about unsure of what direction to turn. Some know what to do. Others are not as familiar. All are disappointed that more cannot be done now.

Then the person most affected comes in to get a liberating document. It’s intended to insert him into a place that is safe to lay his head at night. The freedom paper he held will allow him certain accesses and most valuable of all, time. Time to think and prepare and plan his next step.

And the next.

And the next.

This document is his Charlie Bucket golden ticket. But while it gains him access to a potentially hopeful future, his current situation now becomes crystal clear and is brought into bright focus.

“.. So this says I’m homeless, right?”

My world stops. I feel the need to sit down. The man before me isn’t even sure where to go next and asks for directions. Vague directions coupled with waving hands and extended fingers assist him on his journey. Dorothy Gale had better directions to the Emerald City. And her prospects proved to be just as dim upon her first arrival.

It’s hard to do my job. But I adore my career. It’s a career I value as much as any career choice can be. I’ve never felt more fulfilled because daily I have a chance to make a real difference and maybe, just maybe, help in the preservation of life, in an abstract yet very concrete way. It is in moments like this, which are few, but precious, that I remember why I do what I do. It’s not for vainglorious reasons. Not for chest thumping moments. Not for the upbraided attitude some adorn themselves in. But rather for the blessed opportunity to be honest, true and effective in the preservation of life.

And when the question is asked, “… So this says I’m homeless, right?” Somewhere along the way, I know that someone failed. Someone lost focus. Someone chose not to care.

And I am sad.

So, why do you ask?

I am a public official and over the years I’ve seen many people with many different motivations. They have needs that must be fulfilled and those needs are fueled by a variety of pressures. None of those motivations are necessarily my business and so I do not care to know. Besides. It tends to foment a certain level of bias if I do ask. So if knowing the reason beyond the ask is not going to serve me in being a good public official to the citizen, I will not go there.

But there are folk who are not public officials. People who have agendas both obvious and subtle. I do not fault them for that. I too have agendas on occasion. Frankly, an agendas a good thing to have. It gives me a drive and encouragement. A muse, if you will, to press on to the proverbial mark. So I don’t judge on that point.

What I am interested in understanding is when a persons motivation IS important. When their questions are probative and intended to net results. Leading questions, my lawyer friends might say. These are the questions that make me think, so…. Why do you ask?

You see, when I am asked a question I often am left to wonder what caused them to ask it.

Questions that are simply curiosity driven are few and far between when it’s an adult doing the asking. Children are great. They ask curious questions like:

‘Why is the sky blue?’
‘Are we there yet?’
‘Can you change my diaper?’
‘Do you love me?’

But adults have been around a while. We adults know that innocence is generally for the innocent. Honest and wholistic questions are somewhat rare. The ask simply for the sake of asking is met with many responses. Mostly defensive. In fact, even my pastor, whom I care deeply for, said a few Sundays ago that the substantive conversation is rare and unusual. But that rarity has fostered a society that is based upon sound bites, short attention span for even the most complex issues, and ill prepared for the pithy conversation we miss out on.

The tendency is to immediately be suspicious when someone or anyone, even children, ask surface and small talk questions. It’s nothing to do with the question asked, but the idea that someone went out of their way to stop you from your agenda to query you on yours seems at once invasive and threatening. It’s a fear led response that makes us think the inquisitor ‘….wouldn’t be interested in just making conversation because I certainly never do so, therefore they must want something from me. Not just my time. Maybe my money. That’s it. They are selling me something. Where’s my wallet? Did I hide it well enough?..’

Never thinking that we all crave simple conversation. But usually that simple minded inane low brow dialogue is relegated to the office workplace. Mostly around the proverbial water-cooler.

But what has us here? Lacking in substantive conversation as a rule, afraid of simple conversation, and constantly suspicious of people’s motivations? My thought is because our greatest fear where communication is concerned is being vulnerable. Vulnerability allows for a measure of trust. Faith if you will. Honesty. Acceptance of a truth. Maybe not THE truth, but certainly A truth. Communication on any level requires at least some level of thought and many of us become fatigued with the very idea of thinking. Why else are reality tv, talking head shows, radio blow-hard programs, and American Ninja-esque shows so popular? Those forms of media allow for knee jerk instantaneous entertainment that requires no effort at thought to enjoy them. Hand me a spoon, I’m hungry for more.

It’s not wrong to enjoy empty programming. Far from it. It allows for some escape from stress by watching others escape a sticky situation… Or revel in it. But it conditions us for empty programming in our heads when we interact with real folk everyday. And the shows are a product of us attempting to escape reality while cyclically mining society for reality shows subjects we will engage with for 24 minutes or 47 minutes at a clip.

Frankly I feel a nice walk down a city street, quiet neighborhood, or wooded trail is more fulfilling for that sort of escapism but that’s a subject for another blog.

My argument is….well, I don’t know that I even have one. Perhaps this is just a letter to be aware. Aware of what? Glad you asked.

Aware that we are generally at least ambivalent about shallow conversation because it has the propensity of leading to a deeper conversation. We tend to fear connection through conversation because that sort of conversation requires dropping of bulwarks and fortresses of privacy we’ve spent years building. We often avoid even eye contact on the bus because if we see them looking at us, they might say something, perish the thought. And having a pithy conversation is good but only when we trust and trust is hard to build, easy to break and rare on a larger scale.

Finally faith, trust, honesty, true heart to heart conversation is spiritually uplifting. It is that sort of connection that makes being a communicative human such a gift. It lifts the heart and dashes our fear. Exposes the lies and highlights the truth. It conveys opinions born from an honest place and asks others to consider it for the value it may own. And in the end if we let go of preconceptions and fear driven avoidances we may finally get to the point where we no longer need to ask or even wonder: So…. Why do you ask?