Taking It Personally: Communication and Asking the Right Questions
Remembering what to do and doing it at the right time.
Recently I was reminded that I live in a small town, and that reminder had overtones of an earlier time.
When one of my constituents wanted to send me a note, he apparently dropped it in the farebox of a Lexpress bus. When the money was taken out of the farebox to be counted, the note came out, too. The Transportation Coordinator took the note to the Selectmen’s Office, where the Clerk called me to tell me I had mail.
So the writer of that note could have sent it to me via standard mail, but he found a method that was quicker than just about anything else available. Lexpress may have found an additional mission.
But that very personal communication reminded me of something that happened to me a few months ago. It was Patriots Day and by 1:30 p.m., I was moving pretty slowly after getting up at 2 a.m. to help cook sausage for the Troop 160 Pancake Breakfast, then going to the reenactment at 6 a.m., marching in the morning parade, going back to help with breakfast cleanup and walking over to meet Paul Revere.
So, with at least a two-mile afternoon stroll in front of me walking with the Boy Scout, who were pushing the Historical Society pumper, I decided to take the bus to the parade start point instead of walking as I usually do. Wearing my uniform and the hat, which makes me a dead ringer for Harrison Ford (honest, he could be my brother—the whole Whitey Bulger thing is just a dark joke), I was headed to the bus pickup point near the Library when a small boy came up to me and announced “I’m lost.”
I thought at first that my open and honest attitude, which must be apparent to all, had attracted him, but I suspect it was really the Boy Scout uniform. Hmmm. I was a little lost myself, with respect to what to do so I decided to look for a police officer. I do know that an important rule to follow when lost is to stay in one place and not wander. Here, some Library Foundation volunteers stepped in and said that the boy could sit with them while I found a police officer.
I found an officer who called it in, and by the time I got back to the Library, both Chief Mark Corr and Sgt. Christina DeMambro were there. I mentioned that I had no idea how to handle it. Chief Corr indicated that Sgt. DeMambro would take care of things.
I had been bright enough to ask the lost boy if he had a cell phone, but when he didn’t I had run out of questions. Sgt. DeMambro then asked four absolutely perfect questions.
- Do you live in Lexington? (Yes)
- Do you know what street you live on? (He did)
- Do you know your house number? (He did)
- Do you know your phone number? (He did)
Here Chief Corr turned to me and smiled. I got the definite feeling that the police had done this sort of thing before.
And then there were three other questions which I hadn’t thought of:
- Who were you walking with when you became lost? (Just Mom)
- Which way were you walking? (He indicated a side street, not Mass Ave, along with a direction, all of which indicated, I belatedly realized, a return to a car)
- What color jacket is your Mom wearing? (He knew the color. So much for men not noticing what women are wearing.)
Now all they had to do was reunite mother and son. That didn’t take long. Pretty soon, a woman in a blue jacket joined us. Obvious concern from Mom. Maybe a little apprehension from son. Then smiles all around.
But all this started me thinking about questions. Half my job as a selectman is asking questions so we can arrive at a reasonable decision.
So, in the coming year I think I will start concentrating on asking the best questions possible. Plus, I will watch a natural tendency to pre-judge. I would never have thought of asking about street and phone number because I assumed that no child that young would know those pieces of information. And what I heard from Sgt. DeMambro will serve as a goal. Seven questions and not a clinker in the bunch.
I wonder if she is free to serve on a couple of Town committees which need members …