Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Chapter 2 - Young Alfred: Part 2 - Troubleshooter

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Alfred’s skill as a troubleshooter had often come in handy at Rudnik where the distances required for traveling to, from, and within the estate demanded self-sufficiency. A doctor might take six or seven hours to arrive, a veterinarian twenty. The peasants on the farm learned to depend on “the little master” who might be seen going about with a veterinary or medical textbook under his arm. In another medical emergency, a peasant girl had tried to commit suicide by swallowing iodine. He related, “I knew enough to wash my hands in dirty water and make her drink it. It saved a life. It worked. It was an actual primitive first aid, but what else to do?”(9)

Alfred had begun to take on responsibilities at a fairly young age. During the summer, his parents might need to hire anywhere from 50 to 100 people in addition to the local peasants for several months of harvesting. They hired mainly Russian soldiers from almost every part and ethnic group within the Russian empire, looking to supplement their meager salaries. Korzybski’s parents provided barracks and food—and Alfred to supervise.

He already had experience supervising the peasant workers. For example, when a horse or cow died, which happened occasionally, the body would be skinned in order to obtain the hide, worth money—if it didn’t get cut or otherwise damaged in the skinning process. Little Alfred would supervise the procedure as well as the digging of the hole for burying the carcass, so the dogs couldn’t pull it out. Initially, he may have tried to push the workers beyond what they could reasonably do. But he listened to them and learned when they protested, “Master, we are not brutes.” He would recall that phrase of protest when later trying to formulate what distinguished humans from animals.

Supervising the soldier-workers provided other things for him to learn about people. Picture eight year old Alfred, standing in a field in a military uniform and cap—which he had discovered gave him more authority with the Russian soldiers—showing them how to cut the rye and wheat, directing their work, telling them when and even how to take a break. Young Alfred could speak Russian well. Attending to the varying psychologies he observed among the soldiers, he discovered there were different ways to best handle men from different ethnic groups. He worked hard and had a commanding presence. The workers paid attention. For Alfred the job opened up what would become a life-long fascination with the issues of management and human relations. For example, he soon realized the importance of the alternating rhythm of work and rest:

[The soldiers] worked like hell, actually like machines, for say fifteen, thirty minutes, I gave orders STOP. LAY DOWN. SMOKE. They were accustomed to orders. I didn’t let them fool around, talk, chatter. No—lay down, rest, smoke, drink water. Do anything you want. Don’t waste time. And I gave them say after thirty minutes, I gave them something like ten minutes rest. The result was management. That they, after that rest under orders, then they became again strong, and virile and they had rest. A great many people don’t know how to rest. If you rest, don’t dawdle about it. Just relax, lay down, or something like that. (10)
The Little Master  

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
9. Korzybski 1949, p. 10

10. Korzybski 1947, p. 71

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