The Greatest Lesson I Learned

By Lindsay Nielson

Back in the Dark Ages, when I went to UCLA, there was one class that all of us so-called “student leaders” wanted and needed to take. It was an upper division Poli Sci class taught by Dr. Charles Titus and was simply called “Politics.” It had nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans but with how to motivate people and to think and be a leader. It was a very competitive class. Each week Dr. Titus announced the class ranking of all of the students and we all tried desperately to be in the “first quartile” and be able to sit in the first two rows of the classroom.

Dr. Titus started each class with a quiz. After reading Machiavelli or John Stuart Mill or Cicero, we never knew what to expect. Once when we came into class there was a hand of bridge on the blackboard. The quiz – “What is your bid?” Dr. Titus’ point was if you are going to be a leader, play leaders’ games. Another time, Professor Titus gave us a list of dinner guests (the Governor and his wife; the Chief Justice of the State, etc.). Our job was to seat them around the table in the proper protocol. Yes, there is a protocol – you are seated in descending importance from the host and do not put the spouses next to each other, but across the table from each other. I didn’t know that either.

One day we were given a quiz. The obvious (and only) answer was “A.” Dr. Titus, the good professor, ended the quiz by announcing that the answer was “B,” but he had no time to discuss it as he was running a bit late. There were a lot of moans and groans, but we went on.

The next time the class met, Dr. Titus announced that the following four students got the quiz right and he wanted them to come to the front row and be seated. Everyone was confused. How could they have answered “B”?

Dr. Titus told us that the golden four had indeed answered “A” just like everyone else. But during the week, they came to his office and asked how could that possibly be correct? The real quiz, he said, was what would we do with information that we absolutely knew was wrong. In our life as leaders we would be given so much information that is just wrong and if we merely accept it, he didn’t want us in his lass…certainly not in the front two rows.

I was not one of the four, but it was the greatest lesson I learned at my alma mater. I’ve never forgotten it. Talk about a great teacher….

Lindsay Nielson practices in Ventura, where he handles land use and real estate matters.
(Article also found in the July 2011 issue of CITATIONS)

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