Article Date: 3/1/2003

lessons learned
Watch What You Say
Before you open your mouth to speak, make sure no bricks are poised to fall.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

In Book of Bricks, British actor Robert Morley tells of a program chairman who introduced a distinguished cleric about to address a conference as "the venereal archdeacon."

This is one of the many "bricks" he relates in the book. He defines a brick as a blooper, gaffe or faux pas. Reading them reminded me of how careful you must be in communicating with your patients, your employees and your community. Otherwise you may find yourself "dropping a brick" and putting yourself in an embarrassing situation.

Dropping a brick of my own

Being at times something of a big mouth, I've dropped a few bricks of my own. Probably the most embarrassing, however, occurred when I was examining a young lady patient.

Having worked the previous night, she said that she was going straight home to bed as soon as we were through with the exam. I was pretty tired myself and the idea of taking a morning nap sounded appealing. So I fervently declared, "I sure wish I could join you!"

She never returned to my office, despite my sputtering and blushing attempts to explain.


Retelling classic bricks

There were two classic bricks during the era of the 1930s:

During the presidency of Herbert Hoover, a prominent radio announcer made the introduction, "And now, the president of the United States, Hoobert Heever."

During this same era, there was a kindly Uncle Charlie on radio Station WGN in Chicago who, in a syrupy voice, would read the Sunday morning Chicago Tribune comics to the small fries who listened in. One morning after he'd finished his reading, he turned to the engineer and said, "That ought to hold the little &?$%&*s until next week." Unbeknownst to him, the microphone was still on, and he broadcast this message to the tender ears of his audience. Needless to say, he was replaced the following week by kindly Uncle Dave.

Involving the family

Dr. Dick Hopping, former president of Southern California College of Optometry, can readily agree that what you mean to convey isn't always what the recipient(s) hears. A few years ago at the American Optometric Association Congress, he was presented the Distinguished Service Award before a crowd of more than 1,000. In accepting, he introduced his family.

"I'd always hoped that my daughter would also study optometry," he said as he introduced her. "But instead she had to get married." Upon realizing what he'd said, with red face he hastened to explain that what he'd meant to say was that she'd wanted to get married, rather than had to get married.

Another brick I witnessed occurred at a local United Givers luncheon. The emcee was introducing one of the speakers, a man named Johnny Beane, a recovering alcoholic who'd accomplished tremendous good in the community. Unfortunately, the emcee introduced him as "Jim Beam," which of course is a brand of whiskey.

Dropping the intentional bricks

Some bricks are intentional. For example, a few years ago my friend Bob Bieber was lecturing to 150 paraoptometrics at a Vision Expo West conference. I snuck into the back of the room to listen.

"My friend Jack Runninger has just come into the back of the room," he announced to the class. "I understand he's a prominent citizen back in Rome, Georgia. In fact, I'm told that he's started a Halfway House there for girls who won't go all the way."

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM.


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2003