When I was a Senior in high school, my English teacher had me read Walt Whitman, including the 52 page epic poem, “Song of Myself.” At the end of his rant, Whitman shrugs, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
The idea that we humans are multi-faceted has always resonated with me, both personally and professionally.
In college, I was interested in too many things to settle on a regular major, so I received a multidisciplinary degree in American Studies. Then I began a Ph.D program in history because I thought I would enjoy being a professor. I later attended Boston College Law School, a fine institution which gave three more years of safe harbor to people like me who couldn’t decide what to be when we grew up.
Even as a lawyer, I did a variety of tort and contract work before a concert injury case changed my career forever.
Few people are just one thing. We are both children and parents, spouses and siblings and friends. Even if we work mostly alone, some tasks require us to cooperate with others. Although we are living through a time when people crave certainty, I am comfortable with this ambiguity. Here’s why.
When I give crowd manager training, one of the first slides I show is my wife going through security before the Super Bowl. The question is, “Who in this picture is a crowd manager?” The answer is nearly everyone. The guard holding the magnetometer, the police officer in the background, the supervisors with lanyards and radios — they all had their own jobs to do, plus each played an additional role helping patrons safely and efficiently enter the stadium.
Similarly, in an Emergency Action Plan I just drafted for an outdoor amphitheater, the Vice President of Operations is also the incident commander in an emergency, the liaison with the consulting meteorologist during severe weather, and the venue’s spokesman with patrons, artists, vendors, and the media. The venue has a typically lean staff, so it’s a good thing the Vice President is a smart and resourceful guy.
Isn’t this the way you work, too?
This issue of wearing multiple hats came up for me this month in the context of some things I had said and written. My critique of “Run, Hide, Fight” in live event venues came out as the cover story of Protocol magazine; a shorter version of that article appeared in NFPA Journal, and I was also quoted in that issue’s cover story about emergency medicine and harm reduction at festivals; I contributed an article to the ESTA newsletter about defending a rigger in litigation; I added a summary of the U.S. Department of Labor’s current interpretation of independent contractor status for the NCS4 annual conference; and I was interviewed on TV about the limits of constitutional free speech during a Black Lives Matter street demonstration.
My point is not to boast (although it’s cool to make the cover), but to underscore that even a humble country lawyer is the product of a variety of interests and skills. In each instance, my analysis was grounded in the fundamental legal proposition that everyone has the duty to behave reasonably under the circumstances. That is both my legal training and my belief about how the world should work. But it is only a starting point.
As you know, “reasonableness” means nothing outside its context. This is why I immerse myself in the many disciplines that affect safety in live event venues. Any lawyer can recite the formula we learned the first week of Torts class — the more important skill is being able to apply that formula to the particular circumstances we face in our increasingly specialized world.
I believe most of us are not fungible. We are interesting and valuable in our jobs and our lives precisely because we achieve some mastery in more than just one thing. I think it’s good that we all contain multitudes. I hope you agree.