I Thought That Maybe, if It's OK With You, You'd Stop Barking

Why is it so hard to tell someone what to do?

Not only is the country undergoing a leadership crisis, so am I, although in my case it's a chronic problem. I've been aware of it for years, and even the grade of A+ I received in the officers' training course did not make any difference during the days following the course, during which I found myself washing the floor I shared with my clerk, Bella, and serving coffee with four teaspoons of sugar to my clerk, Meir, simply because I felt it was beside the point as well as very tiring to ask them to do those things instead of me. Besides, Bella had been my classmate in elementary school and Meir was a hunk with the machismo of a Latino man.

For years I have been trying to persuade myself that my personal charm, my intelligence, logical reasons that I can always come up with, or my boundless goodness of heart would do the work instead of my leadership ability. Because in the final analysis, life is supposed to be more complex than just games of power and control and the question of who blinked first, or who phoned first, or who exposed her feelings first. People, like God, know what's in your heart and not only what's in your eyes, and good will triumph in the end. Usually even that works.

I managed to get an A+ in the officers' course because there I used Scheherazade tactics. Instead of excelling with my dubious talents when it came to reassembling a weapon after it was taken apart, long hikes, military law and other such uninteresting things, I excelled in my ability to give lectures on subjects of general knowledge, like Chopin's music, who is a Jew, Dr. Stillman's protein diet, for and against returning the territories and any subject that is not directly connected to the functions of an Israel Defense Forces officer.

It turns out that this is an ability that is never lost. A while ago a man with one of the best physiques in the health club I visit occasionally mentioned to me that he's noticed that whenever one of the trainers approaches me to comment on the incorrect way I'm doing one of the exercises, I "begin to tell him all kinds of stories." The result, of course, is that the trainers enjoy a bit of comic relief from the tribulations of their exhausting work, while I remain a weakling.

The other side of my inability to take orders at face value, or to carry out totally arbitrary instructions (as for example, to keep my elbows at my sides during the exercise), is my problem with telling people to carry out my orders without apologizing - what in childhood education is called "placing limits" or "exercising parental authority." Who am I to expect people to do what I say simply because I tell them to do so?

My inability to demand of others that they acquiesce is also a permanent part of my personality. I remember my surprise when I first heard the father of my eldest son, who was only a year and a half old at the time, explain an order he had given him by saying "because Daddy said so." The idea that there was such a thing as "parental authority" had until that moment seemed to me like an anachronistic remnant of the period when outstanding parents like me had not yet been invented, the kind of parents who deliberate with themselves on the question of which intelligent line of reasoning to use to explain to two-year-olds why they shouldn't smear the entire floor with ketchup, pour all the shampoo bottles and liquid soap into the bathtub and decorate the walls with nail polish, and all this without causing a mortal blow to their creativity.

"From the day we were born, you've apologized every time you say something entirely justified or exercise authority," that same tot told me when he turned 16.

"I'm sorry," I said instinctively.

"Exactly what are you sorry for?" he wondered.

"I'm sorry for apologizing," I said. If I ever write the story of my life, that will probably be the title.

What can I do if I believe in asking rather than demanding, and if I openly appreciate shows of independence and rebellion. Sometimes I think that the difference between true leaders and those who are not genuine lies in humor. A true leader - a military man, an archbishop, a Supreme Court justice or a prime minister - cannot relate to himself with humor, because skepticism is an enemy of arbitrariness, and because he is apparently required, somehow, to believe that he really is the right person for the job, that he has the moral authority to send people to their death or to decide on people's fate or, as Orna Banai used to say in the character of the late lamented Limor, he just knows what's right.

"You have to study leadership," said Oren, the dog trainer, who came to my house to behold the new wonder. Let's admit it, even the combination of words "dog trainer" has something simultaneously attractive and repulsive about it, especially when it turns out that a dog trainer is not someone who teaches dogs how to jump through burning hoops or to serve coffee with a smile.

"You," said Oren, "are supposed to train the dog! And you are supposed to see yourself as Shoshana's leader. In nature dogs live in packs with a leader, and from now on you're the leader. That means that when you give her an order, you don't immediately begin to apologize and explain things to her. It's very simple. Here, try: Say 'sit' firmly, without smiling."

"Sit!" I said to Shoshana, who in response jumped to the height of my shoulder while wagging her tail.

"Tell her 'no!' said Oren. "She's trying to reach your height in order to assert her leadership. Don't give in. Push her. Tell her 'no,' and then tell her 'sit.'"

"No," I said to Shoshana, who immediately licked my face. "Stop already, you're embarrassing me! Do me a favor and sit already, I'm asking you, after all you're an intelligent dog."

"You see, you're apologizing again," protested Oren.

"Sorry," I said, embarrassed.