It’s true. Nobody listens. You. Me. The next person and the one next to him. I don’t know if it’s arrogance, mulish stubbornness, self-absorption or simply the nature of the human beast, but it’s true. Nobody listens. Is there a soul under the blue sky that hasn’t regretted not listening to sound advice after making a huge blunder? Can I see a show of hands? Just as I thought. Nobody listens.
I guess it’s a human thing. We all talk a fair blue streak and generally hear what others are saying, but I’m not referring to conversations here. I’m talking about taking advice. From others and from our own little voice inside of us that knows better. Time and time again we find ourselves saying “If only I’d listened…” Well, we’re in good company. This tunnel-vision tendency is as old as the human race. No person in history, man or woman, famous or infamous, was exempt from serious errors in judgement that could easily have been avoided by heeding the sound advice readily available to them. Read on and see.
History is liberally sprinkled with “what-ifs” and “if-onlys.” Fortunately, I come from a very large and very old family that has passed down a rich oral history that sheds some light on some of mankind’s most fateful decisions. We Crespos were not famous figures, but rather behind-the-scenes types. For example, it was my great-great granduncle, the Indian scout Beauregard Crespo who warned George Custer at the Little Big Horn: “General, sir, I think it’s a trap!” Did he listen? Ask Sitting Bull, who did listen to his scouts.
I had a great-uncle from the English branch of the family, a seafaring type who set sail on the Titanic, a very prestigious berth at the time. It was Uncle Percival Crespo who warned the captain “These waters are filled with dangerous icebergs, sir, perhaps we’d better slow down.” “Pish and tosh and balderdash,” replied the captain, “she’s an unsinkable ship! Besides, the rich folks want to water-ski.” So who could blame Uncle Percy if he spent his nights sleeping in a lifeboat? He lived to tell the tale. His sole regret was having no opportunity to tell the captain “I told you so,” that august gentleman being last seen steering his unsinkable ship straight to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Uncle Percy wisely got out of the sailoring business and opened a pub in London where the only advice he rendered was to the souses at his bar with unsolvable problems. Nobody listened there either, but then again, who cared?
In the Chicago branch of the family in the late 1800’s lived Kathleen Crespo, an honest milkmaid who had a best friend named Mrs. O’Leary, also an honest milkmaid, but a tad myopic. Kathleen urged her to get herself a good pair of spectacles so she wouldn’t have to place the oil lamp so near to the cows when milking them, lest the lamp get knocked into the straw. “What could happen?” queried Mrs. O’Leary, “It’s not like the whole city will burn down if I don’t wear glasses. Besides, my cow Bossy is a calm creature who wouldn’t kick over a thimble, much less a lamp.” Well, guess again Mrs. O’Leary. Who hasn’t heard of the Chicago Fire?
My French ancestor, the Viscount Henri de La Salle Crespo, had a very prestigious position in the French government in the late 1700’s, advisor to the Queen, Marie Antoinette. Sort of a public relations expert. Things got pretty dicey for royalty in France around then, what with the royal family spending half the nation’s wealth on palaces and parties and the general population going hungry. So American-style revolution started to look pretty good to the hungry peasants. Viscount Henri was a busy man in those bleak days, attempting to put a good spin on the antics of the royals and trying desperately to prevent either the King or the Queen from saying something stupid in public. The most cursory glance at the history of kings and queens will prove that this is an impossible task. Between the food riots, ruinous foreign wars and the unstinting decadence of the royal family and their huge worthless entourage, Henri ran himself ragged and finally took to his bed for a few days in complete mental and physical exhaustion. His last words to the Queen before taking his convalescence were “Your Majesty, I’ll be back on the job in just a few days. Meanwhile, I beg of you, say nothing to anyone about the food situation.” Imagine his distress when he had to read in the newspapers her “Let them eat cake” blunder. When he confronted Marie Antoinette she simply said “Cool it Henri, I was drunk. I lost my head.” Prophetic words indeed.
Oh, we go back, way back, the Crespo clan. As handmaiden to Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile herself, my ancient ancestress Imhotep Crespo said to the Queen: “I’m positive, Your Highness, the garter snake is the harmless one and it is the asp that is poisonous.” Don’t blame the messenger.
In ancient Philistine, that nation of mighty warriors, lived a soldier named Fred Crespo. Okay, Fred is not your typical Philistinian name, so perhaps that explains why he was not mentioned in the Bible. He was, after all, Goliath’s best friend and constant drinking buddy, and look at all the play Goliath got in the Good Book, for getting slain, no less. Anyway, the mighty Philistine army was routinely looting and sacking the Middle East when they come upon the army of that pesky upstart nation Israel, for once led by a courageous general/king named Saul. With the two armies arrayed in a stalemate of sorts, the giant Goliath taunted the Israelis with a challenge of man-to-man combat. Valorous soldiers though the Israelis were, they were not stupid and Goliath had no takers. Small wonder. The man was eight and a half feet of solid muscle with a sword the size of a stop sign, and covered with armor head to toe. So the stalemate stood for a few days until out of nowhere some pretty-boy Israeli shepherd named David volunteers to fight Goliath.
Both armies roared with laughter when the little guy approached the giant wearing no armor and bearing no sword or shield. Goliath and Fred had been drinking heavily all night and Goliath was a mean drunk. Outraged that he should be challenged by a stripling, he roared and snorted like an angry bull and charged onto the field to wring the boy’s neck like a bird. Fred warned Goliath, “Yo, Gee, take your helmet, fool, that kid’s a laser with a slingshot.” Needless to say, the big guy didn’t listen, the Philistines were routed and the pretty boy goes on to become Israel’s greatest king and womanizer. Go figure. Goliath, man-mountain of a warrior, slayer of thousands and hero of many an epic battle, goes down in history as a pug. David gets the glory, the women and big-time mention in the Bible. Fred got squat. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to give good advice. Nobody listens anyway.
Ask my Roman ancestor E Pluribus Crespocus, chief of staff to one Julius Caesar, head honcho of Rome when Rome was the big enchilada of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Not content to be the biggest cheese in the biggest cheese sandwich of them all, Caesar decided he could do without the pesky Senate and run the show all by his lonesome. Old E Pluribus warned him that the Roman Senate was bristling with thorny customers, crafty and powerful men reluctant to cede total power to an irritating megalomaniac. Assassination and deification was a time-honored tradition in the Eternal City as a method of ridding the Republic of said usurpers and E Pluribis warned Caesar in no uncertain terms to tread lightly in the volatile political atmosphere.
Having waged successful campaigns in Gaul and elsewhere on three continents imbued Caesar with a sense of omnipotence, and coming out on top in Rome after narrowly averting a civil war only made the man even more unreasonable. Instead of being thankful for getting the top job and making accomodations with the powerful men of Rome, Caesar completely ignored Crespocus’ sage counsel and indeed threatened his top aide with exile to the remote Roman outpost of Londinium up in the wilds of Britain if he didn’t get with the program of helping him become a dictator answerable to no one. E Pluribus should have jumped at the offer, especially when Caesar assured him that his good buddy Brutus would always have his back in any showdown with the Senate. Good buddy Brutus had Caesar’s back alright, had it skewered deftly on his razor-sharp dagger while a half dozen of Caesar’s other “buddies” were industriously stabbing him elsewhere many times.
E Pluribus escaped being sliced and diced along with his boss only because the Roman Senate declared Caesar a god as soon as they were done slaying him, thus making Crespocus a sort of holy person himself for having been so close to a deity. Indeed he found himself to be again in demand as an advisor to the new guy in charge, a job he respectfully declined as he made rapid tracks out of Rome to sunny Spain and a comfortable retirement. He correctly predicted that the job of boss of bosses in Rome would be a precarious one for the forseeable future and removed himself from the proximity of the deifying daggers.
Why do presidents and kings pay good money to hire top advisors and then routinely ignore their counsel? Another great-great-great uncle, the little-known Elmer Crespo, worked in such a capacity for Abraham Lincoln. Uncle Elmer tried time and time again to get Mr. Lincoln to hire some bodyguards. The president enjoyed a night out from time to time and, great man though he was, he was entirely too trusting, especially for a man presiding over a civil war. So when Uncle Elmer begged him to skip the theater that night since the star of the play was that rabid anti-Unionist John Wilkes Boothe, or at least bring a squad of armed soldiers, why did Mr. Lincoln decide to ignore him?
Presidents don’t listen any better than royalty or warriors. Just ask my cousin Todd “Biff” Crespo, former advisor to President Clinton. He told Mr. Clinton repeatedly: “Mr. President, sir, is it really such a good idea to make love to your interns in the Oval Office? Word might get out.” Well the President just grinned and said he reckoned he could lie his way out of just about anything at this point, having had a lifetime of public service to practice. Well, young Biff managed to resign just before the blizzard of subpoenas buried the White House. If Mr. Clinton had taken Biff’s advice and used a Motel 6 like everybody else this nation would have been spared two years of embarrassing nonsense and governmental inertia. Nobody listens.
Not-so-great men also never listen. Take Tomas de Torquemada, chief architect of the Spanish inquisition and expeller of the Jews from Spain in 1492, for example. He had in his employ a scholarly priest name Juan de Casa Blanca y Los Angeles Maria Madre Crespo. Juan Padre, we call him in our family circle. It seems that Juan Padre vigorously sought to head off the inquisition, telling Torquemada point-blank: “Excellency, this will NOT look good on your resume’. You are hurting our chances of ever having a Spaniard ascend to the Papacy.”
To this day, no Spaniard has sat on the papal throne and Torquemada compiled a very poor resume’ indeed. Torturing people, burning them at the stake and expelling them from their own nation doesn’t look any better on paper than it did in person. Family lore has it that after a session with the thumbscrew mechanics and body-stretchers in some dungeon in Barcelona, Juan Padre left Spain and the priesthood and opened up a pub in London (Advice giving and drinking run in our family). There he married and raised a large family, starting the English branch of the Crespo family. He changed his name to John and swore off giving advice to the high and mighty. He found out the hard way they don’t listen.
The Crespo brethren have spread far and wide across this great globe, as often as not finding themselves in the unenviable position of paid advisors to the mighty, in spite of countless bad experiences like those of Juan Padre. Several centuries later a British Crespo (a direct descendant of Juan Padre), Lord Chancellor Chauncy Pinchbutt-Abbot-Smythe Crespo IV, found himself privy to the innermost thoughts of King George III of England, who regularly sought his counsel over the rebellious colonies in North America. While Chauncy advised giving the colonies limited autonomy (kind of like what would develop later in Britain’s history as the Commonwealth), the king decided to send in the marines. This eliminated any chance of maintaining a civil relationship with his soon-to-be-former colonies. Sending an army to someone’s shores always seems to put a strain on good will and comradeship. Everybody hates it, the bloodshed, the explosions, the destruction, the whole tiresome inconvenience of it all. Yet kings and presidents keep making war and making war and making war yet again, against all the best advice. When are they finally going to listen?
Not that businessmen are any more receptive to sound counsel. As under-assistant to Henry Ford II, my second cousin J. Thornedyke Crespo innocently asked “What the hell is an Edsel?” For his trouble he was fired and replaced by an idiot in-law of the Ford family who tirelessly promoted the Edsel into near-bankruptcy for Ford Motors and huge losses for their stockholders. J. Thornedyke moved on to the Coca-Cola company where he worked many years. After the death of its founder he found himself advising the new chief executive to leave Coca-Cola well enough alone, as it was the most successful soft drink ever sold.
The result? The disastrous New Coke and huge losses for the company and their stockholders. One step ahead of a pink slip, J. Thornedyke retired to London and opened a pub, having learned the hard way what countless generations of Crespos learned: nobody listens. You’d think a family such as ours would know this by now. We ought to all just repair to London to open pubs and skip all the hooplah, but again, nobody listens, not even the Crespo clan.
I suppose the mighty and privileged deem it their divine right to make mistakes at others’ expense, and shrug off their disastrous decisions under the mental file titled: “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.” That’s a good file for tattoos, ill-fated relationships and bell-bottomed trousers. War, reigns of terror and assorted economic carnage hardly qualify. I’d elaborate, but nobody listens. Why should you be different? Me? I’m heading for London.
Copyright 2007 R.R. Crespo