Ten fingers and ten toes
by Terry Camsey, Major –
My recent column on “Maximizing the Army” must still be subconsciously circulating in my mind, since this morning I woke up thinking about one of my favorite jokes.
Some years ago (long before EPs LPs and CDs) there was, so the story goes, a man driving between two cities in country and western territory. His radio was on, and he became captivated by a song that caused him to start tapping his toes and fingers. When the song was over the announcer called it “Ten Fingers and Ten Toes from Tennessee” and that to get a copy of that record, listeners should phone the following telephone number.
The driver struggled to find a pencil and jot down the telephone number and did so, except that he got one digit wrong. When he arrived home he dialed the number and the following conversation took place:
- “Hello, have you got ‘Ten Fingers and
- Ten Toes from Tennessee?’”
- “Excuse me?”
- “Have you got ‘Ten Fingers and Ten Toes
- from Tennessee?’”
- “No, but I do have a wife and ten kids
- from Kentucky.”
- “Is that a record?”
- “I don’t know, but it must be better than
How easy it is to have what we believe is a dialogue when in fact two monologues are taking place, each participant with his own agenda, thinking of the next thing to say to pursue his own interests… instead of really listening and responding to what the other person is actually saying. Stephen Covey calls this the “dialogue of the deaf.”
Almost 20 years ago, at a conference I was participating in, a delegate from a non-western world command made the following statement:
“Once upon a time there was a Salvation Army command whose leader was a Canadian. The command was administered according to the Canadian way. Then came a colonel from England. “This is the way of The Salvation Army,” says he, so the command became an English Salvation Army model.
Ten years later, behold an Australian Eastern Territory colonel appeared. “Oh, The Salvation Army is not like that…look, we do things this way.” So, once again, they changed their ways and played follow the leader.
Now it so happened that after four years, another Australian colonel appeared, this time from the South. “Let me show you a more excellent way,” says he. And off we go again, changing direction to become the REAL Salvation Army!”
Alas, the story does not end happily ever after here. Another four years pass and it’s time for change again. Now comes a colonel from Hong Kong who says, “Not that way, but this way the Army shall go.”
Are you confused? Well if you’re not, the local people are! What do you think they see the Army as? Well… at the same time as the above story is unfolding, another drama is taking place at the local corps level…The CO is an Englishman so he insists on the “Army way,” doing everything himself. Then comes a Malaysian lieutenant, who doesn’t know how to do anything himself. He is followed by a New Zealander who is followed by a Canadian, who is followed by an American, who is followed by another New Zealander.”
That command had not yet discovered what its indigenous Army should look like.
These days, many communities in the western world are made up substantially of immigrants from parts of the non-western world (I use the term “non-western world” rather than “third-world” since I believe the latter is passé these days).
Is there a moral to that delegate’s story? And if so, does it not apply equally to such changed communities? Is there, perhaps, an even deeper lesson to be learned relating to leaders (at every level) approaching every new appointment with possibly preconceived agendas based on their own personal experience? Are, in fact, “dialogues of the deaf” a reality in some settings, I wonder? And what impact does that have on the health and growth of the Army in individual, uniquely different, settings?
Perhaps really healthy dialogues need to begin with God to ascertain his will for the Army.