A Little Chin Music

When I was a kid, my parents were eager to attend our big family reunion every year. But for me, it wasn't all fun. While it was a good thing to see what new magic tricks Uncle Chet could do with his false teeth, it also meant mandatory participation at the dreaded All Family Softball Game.

In hindsight I can see that it was good training toward becoming an enlightened CSO. I mean, you can get fancy degrees or attend seminars. But ultimately, security is about understanding people. And you can learn a lot about people at an annual softball game.

It's only fair to 'fess up right from the start. I suck at softball. I can hit the ball a country mile, but I'm too slow to field it, too inaccurate to pitch it and too uncoordinated to outrun it. So you can guess the position to which I was relegated: the catcher.

Not that I didn't suck at that too, but at least when Uncle Ted was playing umpire, he'd help me out by making calls in my favour. And therein lies my first lesson. As a security executive, you'll soon discover that support comes in mysterious ways. Sometimes people will help you, sometimes they'll help your opponents. Just because. In this case, Uncle Ted didn't like much of the family. His interests lie simply in doing anything he could to keep anyone from scoring a run.

And there were other lessons too. I was big for my age, so running over the catcher on the way to home base was not a trivial exercise. One year, my Great Uncle John managed to hit me with a flying tackle (let me say politely that he was physically "great" as well), and the shot sent me to the emergency room. Lesson two: Anyone — whether an overly ambitious coworker or a family member — may run you down like a stray cur in the street if they think they'll win.

Somehow, I reached the ripe old age of 10. By then I thought I had achieved all the wisdom that the game of softball offered: that the game is indeed a violent one. Even when it's played with a dad who means well. At the start of that year's game, my dad assigned me to play first base. A line drive off the very next pitch broke my thumb as I tried desperately to catch the ball. Which brings me to lesson three: Even if the boss loves you, sometimes he will do things that unintentionally hurt you. A good boss will recognise his mistakes and try to remedy the problem (sometimes with proper medical help) so that you can continue to work for him.

I found an excuse to miss the family reunion the following year and had a whole year to heal. And believe me, I needed it. But the respite brought lesson four: A lull in the action only serves to soften you up for the next big blow. Hacks happen when you least expect them. And even though I know better, I still get lulled into complacency from time to time.

I knew my dad was still feeling pretty guilty about the incident two years prior because he assured me that I didn't have to play if I didn't want to. I didn't. No one else, it turned out, wanted me to, either. You see, sometimes when a lot of bad things happen to you (even though they may not be your fault), no one wants to play with you. Instead, I was asked to retrieve the duffel bag with the softball equipment from Aunt Emmy's truck in the parking lot. Don't have to play, I thought, just get the stuff. Running with relief to the truck, I was hit by Cousin Sherill in her new car, who was arriving late. I bounced into Aunt Emmy's truck and hit the trailer hitch with my head on the way down. This time, I was off to the emergency room for a fracture around my right eye.

Sherill, to this day, swears she never hit me with her car (even though my left hip had a reverse indentation of FORD on it).

Which brings me to another lesson: If you're a good repeat customer with emergency teams, you can get better service and quicker pain relief.

I am much older now. I hadn't been to a family reunion in more than a decade — until this year. My 12-year-old wanted to meet his extended family and hear if all the stories about Dad were true. And, sure enough, the much despised family softball game is still played. My son is definitely from my gene pool: We are built for comfort, not for speed. There was one major difference between us though: His dad made him wear a protective helmet and proper gear to keep from getting scraped and bruised. He almost immediately got whacked in the head by Chet Jr. Which brings us to the final CSO lesson: Just because you get hurt in your climb to wisdom doesn't mean that others have to be hurt as badly. Your experience can help others following the same tortuous path to enlightenment.

Many times I see bright, young security folks trying their hardest to get the job done well. Many times they make the same boneheaded mistakes I made. If they're not too severe, it's good to let them get bonked in the head every once in a while. But as CSO, you can protect the less experienced colleagues. Remember: Everyone needs a little high cover from time to time.

Especially if they are family.

This column is written anonymously by a real CSO at a major corporation.

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