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The Fly in the Ointment

“The fly in the ointment” is an old phrase that refers to an individual who spoils things for the whole bunch, someone who has dark energy that affects an entire group. It has become my greatest concern in line work.

Now, you may scoff at my use of the word “energy,” but the truth is that we are all either transmitters or receivers of energy, and all of this energy is transmitted or received in frequencies. The entire universe functions on a nodal frequency of 432 Hz. That’s the frequency of the Fibonacci sequence that gives the diameters and spirals to our galaxies and even to chambered nautiluses deep in the ocean. And 528 Hz is the solfeggio frequency – the human vibration pattern that brings us in tune with every subatomic structure on this planet that is ultimately tied to the universe. We are, in fact, tied to everything based solely on
our harmonic balance.

But back to the fly in the ointment. We’ve all met one of these flies, right? They’re individuals who are out of touch with themselves and others, casting a dark shadow wherever they go. For example, have you ever noticed when an otherwise friendly dog doesn’t like someone they encounter? Is it the dog, or is it the energy that the person is transmitting?

I spent 40-plus years growing up in the bar industry and the last 20 years in outside utilities, and I’ve learned to gauge people much like a dog does. While I’ve generally found I like dogs better than people, I’ve still met many individuals I’m fond of. Some I haven’t cared about one way or another, and there are a few I care never to see or speak to again. Those last ones are the flies in my ointment; people with negative personalities who destroy the energy around them. I believe they are dangerous to the utility industry.

As a lineman, I’ve seen one particular situation repeat itself over and over across the past two decades. A company has a great crew that makes it enjoyable to go to work every day. But then one of the crew members quits – maybe he gets a job closer to home or chases more money doing different work. Someone new is hired to replace him. Maybe you know the new person, maybe you don’t. If that person has a reputation in the industry, be it good or bad, word will often get out days before they show up for their first day. If you are a bright transmitter of good energy, people are generally glad to have you on board. If you are a dark transmitter of bad energy, people may dread your arrival. It’s a big industry, but we run in small circles. Confidence is important, but ego is destructive. A confident, humble person who is good at their job can be a pleasure to work with. An egomaniac who thinks they know everything will destroy a job almost immediately – they’ll be a fly in the ointment.

I have told my apprentices for years that the two most dangerous people on the job are the person who thinks they know everything and the person who is too afraid to admit they don’t know something. To me, both are equally formidable. I have been the latter to my shame more times than I can count. Thank goodness I’ve never gotten anyone hurt, and I hope I never do. Over time, I’ve changed my mindset and corrected my behavior. Now that I’m older, I find that I am no longer too prideful to ask why, point out a problem or say something when I see something. But getting there wasn’t easy. In an unforgiving, judgmental industry replete with alpha males, hazing and peer pressure, it takes a giant of a man to tell others he just doesn’t know. Personally, I can count on my fingers the things I know for sure. What about the things I don’t? Does not knowing them make me a lesser person? Am I weaker because I may have to ask a question? Who decides? Am I the fly in the ointment? Is it the person who is judging me for what I don’t know?

In essence, the fly in the ointment is anyone who stifles our artistry and love for line work. People’s energies interact on a very discernable scale; they are actually measurable. If you’re paying attention, you can feel the energy when you meet, interact and especially work with others. You know your brothers and sisters almost at the first handshake, and you often know the fly in the ointment before he or she reaches for your hand.

In the interest of a better, safer future, the mentality in this industry must change. We have to teach our apprentices that the only way to learn from mistakes is to talk about them. Now is not a time for silence; now is the time for a lion’s roar of change. As a lineman, I often ask myself, how can I ensure our apprentices live to retirement age with a great quality of life? One thing we can do is learn to address our professional flies in the ointment.

About the Author: Steve Martin has worked as an outside utility contractor for 20 years, including 17 years with IBEW Local 1249, primarily as a journeyman lineman. He currently holds a safety role at H. Richardson & Sons.

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Steve Martin, CUSP

Steve Martin, CUSP, has worked as an outside utility contractor for 20 years, including 17 years with IBEW Local 1249, primarily as a journeyman lineman. He currently holds a safety role at H. Richardson & Sons.