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Herbert A. Opalek: Looking at ineptitude

Herb Opalek

One definition of "ineptitude" as defined by the dictionary is: awkwardness as a consequence of age or lack of practice.

It is the latter meaning "a lack of practice" that I will address. A good example of ineptitude is when we often claim that our elected officials are inept when it comes to dealing with a certain issue or the other.

Lest I be accused of stereotyping when I discuss politicians; let me state that I have no particular person in Merced -- Democrat or Republican and man or woman -- in mind.

Yet, even supporters of our former President George W. Bush would have to admit that one of the joys of Bush's presidency was the opportunity for late-night television comedians to make fun of him.

Bush's unprecedented level of intellectual ineptitude provided endless fodder for these comedians.

Unfortunately, as I have written, it is true that in this day and age stereotypes are easy to come by and even easier to make fun of.

One reason for this is that a synonym for ineptitude is incompetence. And we so like to make fun of those who do not do their job correctly and efficiently.

When we speak of the economy, the ineptitude of the federal government during this current economic difficulty is monumental.

After two years of floundering around, government has still not resolved the economic problem which is obviously an insolvent banking system. It has come up with quick-fix solutions to this problem. These solutions have then failed to come to grips with the problem itself.

We all are bearing the costs of this ineptitude. Every bailout burdens us with interest payments on perpetual debt while prolonging economic bad times.

One of the basic needs of our lives is financial security.

Sadly, the federal government is inept in providing that security. The banking crisis has made it clear that we have insecure currency.

Anyone who holds wealth in dollars faces this insecurity, and this is a source of demand for gold and silver. One's money is not safe in or out of banks.

If the government cannot provide a sound currency, does that not demonstrate the ineptitude of our government? It is a sad fact that the most powerful government in the world has produced a currency that is now worth less than 5 percent of what it was worth in 1933.

I am not complaining about ineptitude itself.

Since the dawning of history there has always been some degree of ineptitude in human dealings.

Lewis Mumford, the great scholar and historian, studying the fall of Rome, said that "Rome fell not because of political or economic ineptitude or even because of the barbarian invasions it collapsed through a leaching away of meaning and a loss of faith."

Rome fell because of a "barbarization from within."

Ineptitude surrounds us and can also be prevalent, for example, in a church setting.

I have visited many a church and noted that the simple act of extending the right hand of fellowship to visitors to our churches is fraught with difficulty and ineptitude, and many first-time visitors won't come back when they experience a cold or indifferent church.

Let me tell you how I deal with the incompetence that I see in my professional life.

As a mission director, who works with a young but intelligent staff, I must always ask myself the best way to combat ignorance, incompetence and ineptitude.

Getting my staff to change isn't always easy. There have probably been times when I've heard myself say, "Those young fools! How can they do that? Don't they care? Didn't I tell them? Is this really happening?"

When I run into problems that stem from incompetence I ask myself these questions: Did I explain myself fully or did I assume that my staff thinks like I do? Did I invite them to ask for any clarification? Did I provide an example? Do they have the ability and the desire to do this?

Am I overreacting? Is the situation really that bad? Is there a more effective way to motivate staff toward this goal? Did I ask them what that might be? Are they already on information overload? Am I expecting too much?

In other words the ineptitude that I see in others might be the ineptitude I refuse to see in myself. I hope that you come to this realization about the ineptitude that surrounds you.

Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission. He writes a column every other Saturday.