23 August 2011

Takers & Givers

I served in a peace time Army but this scene from the brilliant documentary, Restrepo never fails to make me laugh and cry at the same time. I have a strange love-hate relationship with the Army that some of you know about. Someone asked if I learned 'Honor' from the army. I told them I learned 'Honor' from the people I served with. If the army doesn't give a shit about an NFL football player they're not gonna care much about Joe Shit the Rag Man -- That is, you and me.

The drive from Ft Bragg to Camp McCall in an open jeep, in the winter, was colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra and was the longest hour I've ever known. When I got cold I liked to sing. Loudly. Mac the Knife was a favorite although I have no idea why. Certainly, this would have not have served me well in the WW III - Soviet invasion of Europe - we all were being trained for. But, on a Ft Bragg range road, at Oh-dark-thirty, singing didn't seem to matter much.

We sang our hearts out to stay warm -- and it worked. A contest to see who could light a cigarette with one C ration match in the back seat of an open jeep doing 60 mph was another way not to think about the cold -- as well as make a few bucks on the side.

At the time, I wasn't very grateful for these moments. I never thought I would look back on them as fondly as I do today. The "Army" was the mean green machine but we were all in the same shit hole and that brought us together in a way the civilian world -- grab all you can then split -- has never come close to.

There are two kinds of people in the world. Takers and Givers. Takers don't do well as soldiers. They're usually found out for what they are pretty quickly. Givers don't do so well as civilians. They're found out as well.

A wise civilian manager once told me, "As long as you stand on a street corner handing out ten dollar bills -- people are gonna take them from you." In team spirit, I brought two large deals to my company but was shoved aside when commissions and congratulations were paid. Sadly, there was nobody to sing or dance with.


Ben said...

Fuck 'em. Don't change.

Oyster Guy said...

Gee Tintin, there is so much to chew on here.

I've met Sebastian Junger. I like his film. I don't like him as much. His politics distort his comprehension of reality. I would maintain that he deserves a slap upside the head except that I also think he is suffering from PTSD and a bad case of cognitive dissonance which draws on my sympathy.

The Tillman story really bothers me. I find it so mafia like that that a prominent, credible critic is offered an early discharge and a big money ball contract which he refused. It was an easy out, too easy, because if he had returned to football and spoken out against the war, the chicken-hawks would have painted him as a guy who abandoned his buddies in the middle of a fight for money and safety. But Tillman stayed and got killed under bizarre circumstances. How convenient.

I don’t think about givers and takers so much as dogs and cats. Now I like both animals but as people, cats are just awful to work with. Cats undermine morale, and organizational integrity. My father’s example taught me a lesson early in life about the merits of being your own boss. I’d rather live in a ditch than be insulated from the consequences or results of my decisions. So you got screwed over, but you are still the better man. Perhaps that does not count for much in NYC but I hope you can draw some strength from that. Trad on.

M. F. Smith said...

Pardon me for saying this, but I was shocked that you pointed to the About.com article posted by Pierre Tristam. No matter your feelings about the man, his death and the use of his story by various pundits and politicians, that article is utter trash.

It presents no clear argument beyond expressing partisan resentment and ill-will. As such, it is yet another example of Mr. Tillman's manipulation by politically-minded folk for their own petty end.

I expect better sourcing from you, because you've provided it in the past.

tintin said...

Ben- I'm guessing it's too damned late to change.

Oyster Guy- I always appreciate your comments even if I disagree with you. I've never met Junger but wish I could. In many ways journalists suffer an unusual depression from war. I suppose it's partly because they had a choice to go or not. To stay or not. To carry a weapon or not. To make waves or not. To photograph a dead American or not.

They can be hated for many reasons by the men they're covering. And some fall in love with the thrill of battle while hating it at the same time. There's plenty of guilt to go around. They come home and stew and drink and nothing is ever the same for them again. And nobody knows what they've been through except the guys they were covering and they're not really a part of them either. They're outsiders. I can't work with cats either and your father is dead on about working for yourself. And it was in Chicago (not NYC) many years ago but it was a rude awakening to the realty of 'team' in the world of corporate sales.

M.F. Smith- You've been a testy MF lately but I took your suggestion and replaced the link with one I know is better balanced. I will say this. If my son were killed by friendly fire and the army, at the highest levels, tried to cover it up and were found out, I'd have nothing but ill will and resentment.

I learned the army could be my biggest enemy in that it cared nothing for me. Wind up under the wrong CO and my life could be wasted, as my father said, like office supplies. That's with me when I read anything about Tillman. Not just the incompetence of the military but the idea of doing something illegal for the 'good' of the corps, division, wing, ship, whatever.

Brohammas said...

Capitalism is based on the idea that money is the best incentive and that rational individuals will seek it.

Humans, REAL humans are not at the heart, rational beings.

Theoden said...


Wonderful post.

Even the most jaded people in business don't trust "takers".


tintin said...

Bro- Most well said. Thank you.

Theoden- Not sure I agree. Seems like Bernie Madoff was trusted for a very long time.

GSV JR said...

This was a terrific doc in the true sense of the word.

Theoden said...


I think few knew Madoff was a taker until it was too late. Would you have given him your money once you knew he wasn't fundamentally honest and/or only out for himself?

Keith Ferrazzi has built his business consultancy on the premise of giving and serving as a basis for all relationships, even professional ones. In other words, reciprocity takes care of itself. The hard part, it turns out, is starting from a posture of generosity and a genuine willlingness to help others.

My uncle, a successful timber merchant, was very generous and scrupulously honest. He told me that honesty and generosity weren't necessarily a matter of ethics, they were part of good business practice. He believed he did well because his clients and the banks *trusted* him.

Of course, I'd like to *think* the world really works this way. ;-)


tintin said...

GSV- You're not kidding. It was fantastic. Just got an advance of The Battle of Marjah. Watched it 2x. Should have a review up next week. It comes out 6 Sep. Get it.

Theoden- I remember reading that Leon Bean was happy with a 28% profit margin. LL Bean never wavered from it -- until Leon died. Most of the apparel industry moved off shore not because of disappearing labor but because of increasing profit margins. Old timers in the biz remember the simple keystone or a doubling of price. No more. Which is the big secret of fashion. I think it all goes to trust but sadly most clients only wanna know what you did for them this week. Not 10, 15 or even 18 yrs ago.

Theoden said...


Well, I've been seeing previews for the film *Chasing Madoff*.

I stand corrected. People will do business with takers. Even if they know the takers are dishonest.

Most of the banks dealing with Madoff didn't know he was in a Ponzie scheme. However, they realized he was involved in some *other* form illegal activity, realizing Madoff would probably get caught, but that they could keep the gains they made.

Regarding the apparel industry, I thought most moved off shore not simply because they could increase the profit margins, but because they couldn't run their operations profitably at all in the US in the long-term, given the cost of labor, etc.

Thanks for the good thoughts.


Jonas said...

Very insightful. I had 5 years in the Marine Corps in the early 90's, and although I did enjoy it for the most part (hell, I was a door gunner/ crewchief on Hueys...Who wouldn't enjoy that job?), I do remember a lot of bitching and complaining going on. It's true that when you look back on it and are not in the moment it was one hell of an adventure.
Of course we had a job to do everyday, and not a lot of time for the reindeer games the grunts and their NCO's liked to play.
I had some great officers, to work for. Of course they were all pilots, and I was the guy doing the maintenance on the bird, and flying in the back with them so how much of a dick could you be? There were a couple of ringknockers and legacy men who would all but guarantee to to give you the big green weenie if they felt a little heat. Generally you work hard, get along with most everyone, party hard off duty with the guys, or you are gone...