Monday, September 2, 2013

The Truth Hurts

How business people see orchestras.... blowing money away.
(hardy har har.......)

           We’re blogging about the Minnesota Orchestra this week. It’s a thing. They’re calling it a “cross-blog event.” I felt compelled to join in. It’s been almost a year since the lockout started. There have been other contract disputes with orchestras and their management during that time, but all of them have been resolved. The Minnesota Orchestra’s situation approaches dire straits as the early September back-to-rehearsal deadline proposed by orchestra director Osmo Vänskä nears, when he will most likely resign if he finds himself still at home on his couch. Whether or not you agree with how much money the musicians want, whether or not management handled the money well or not, if their hall should be renovated, etc. are moot points from where I am standing. When I climb up on my soapbox (it’s pretty high up there today– think cherry-picker access) and look at this through my “big picture glasses” this boils down to two concepts: actions vs. words and deception. 
            I had a discussion recently with a friend about what a good friend is. We talked about blow-hards, for lack of a better term (and also because my mom just used that term to talk about my dog who just went running to the door to bark VERY LOUDLY, most likely at a leaf). People can say all kinds of things. They can promise things. They can apologize. In the end, however, it is meaningless if it isn’t backed up by action. The actions are the proof in the pudding. If two groups are fighting and want to resolve a conflict, they will sit down, talk about it, and come to an agreement. The Allied Forces and Germany had enough fighting in World War I and there was an Armistice in November 1918 as a result. Someone leaves unhappy, but there's an end. The many orchestras who had contract negotiations this year, some that went more smoothly than others, wanted to keep the organizations going, so Management and players worked together actively to come to agreements.
            If someone is really sorry about doing something, they’ll stop doing it. If they tell you they’re sorry, but they keep doing it, usually you can surmise that they’re not sorry. Based on this logic, I’m going to tell you that the management of the Minnesota Orchestra doesn’t want to come to an agreement. They have no interest in compromising. They know what the players want, and they act like they don’t. They have turned down proposals from their own mediators. They make proposals that they know the musicians won’t accept for posturing’s sake (such as the latest one made without the assistance of their own suggested mediator). It’s like inviting someone to do something with you when you already know they can’t go. But, “WHY?” you say? Why would they do that? This is the part that’s really going to sting. They don’t want an orchestra.
             I don’t know that anyone’s actually come out and said that. I don’t think anyone wants to hear that. If the Board really wanted to keep the orchestra going, they’d be fighting for it. They would be getting their hands dirty trying to work this out. They’re not. Sports lockouts have more active negotiation periods than the Minnesota Orchestra has had. Sports make a lot of people a lot of money. The Minnesota Orchestra doesn’t make anyone any money. And maybe that’s what the Board has in the back of their mind. They’re not musicians. They may value the arts a little, or think they do, but they probably think with business mindsets. And, they could be thinking that the Minnesota Orchestra has turned into a losing asset and they should just dump it. Right or wrong, the Board has turned into that friend that says he/she’s sorry and continues to treat you like garbage.
And that brings me to the concept of deception. A friend posted this quote from Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works on Facebook this weekend and I think it is quite relevant.
“Trivers*, pursuing his theory of the emotions to its logical conclusion, notes that in a world of walking lie detectors the best strategy is to believe your own lies. You can’t leak your hidden intentions if you don’t think they are your intentions. According to his theory of self-deception, the conscious mind sometimes hides the truth from itself the better to hide it from others. But the truth is useful, so it should be registered somewhere in the mind, walled off from the parts that interact with other people.”
It is quite possible that these managing fellows have deceived themselves. They think they want to keep the orchestra, when really they don’t. And perhaps THAT is why these negotiations are going nowhere. I’d love to be wrong. If I am, Board Members and Mr. Henson (CEO), you don’t have much time.   
*Pinker refers to evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, who has argued that deception and lying are advantageous adaptive traits.

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