Literary history extended

A common parable about leadership goes as follows:

Halfway through the construction of the cathedral, the architect died. The bishop, not knowing what to do, went out to walk through the stoneyard, and found a man hammering on a chisel. “Bless you, my son. What are you making?”

“About twelve centimes a day, your excellency.”

The bishop moved on, and found another mason doing the same thing. “Bless you, my son, what are you making?”

“Your excellency, I’m making the third voussoir for the second arch on the right up there,” pointing up toward the vaulting.

“Bless you, my son, ” said the bishop, feeling a little better, and walked on to another mason hammering on his chisel. “And what are you making?”

“As any fool can see, your excellency, meaning no disrespect, a cathedral.”

“Bless you, my son. Put down your chisel and come with me, I have a job for you.”

New archaeological research in the middle east has unearthed a probable antecedent of this classic. Gene Bardach helped me translate some of the archaic text.

During the building of the Second Temple, the architect suddenly died. With no idea how to proceed, the High Priest went for a walk through the work area, and found Moishe, chiseling a stone. “Sholem aleichem,” said the priest, “what are you making?”

The mason said, “About time someone asked! I’m making a stone to go up on the second arcade there, but the whole concept of that arch is wrong, it doesn’t go with the rest of the facade and it’s not structurally sound. I explained this to the foreman, but he’s such a potzer, deaf and blind. It’s about time this project got some competent leadership, that’s all I can say. “

“You should live till a hundred and twenty,” said the High Priest aloud, muttered something inaudible, and went on his way.

He asked another mason, “What are you making?”

The mason said, “So, what should I be making? I get a couple of hours to get some work done in between trying to teach that idiot Moishe how to chisel, and now I’m on a quiz show? Better I should ask you: if I don’t get a decent hammer, how do you think we’re going to get any kind of temple before the Messiah comes?”

The high priest came to a third mason, sitting on an untouched stone with his hammer and chisel on the ground, nose buried in a scroll, and just stared at him. The mason eventually looked up. “What?” he said, and after a pause, “Do you not preach to us that study of The Law is preeminent among all things?”

Further along, and near despair, he came upon Itzik’s mother Rachel, bringing him his lunch. “How many children do you have?”

“Eight, including of course my son the lawyer and my other son the doctor and my daughter the rebbetzin. Do you know her husband Isaac? Such a wise man….” At this point they arrived at Itzik’s work area. “Here, bubbele, your lunch,” she said lovingly.

Itzik put down his tools, opened the sandwich, and said “Oy, Mom, you forgot the pickle again! And it has mayonnaise and you know I hate mayonnaise! I told you last week…” At this point Rachel fixed him with the look that distinctively empowers Jewish mothers, and Itzik fell instantly silent and began to eat his sandwich.

“Come with me, woman. I have a job for you,” said the High Priest, smiling broadly.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

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