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A Lesson From Literature

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Mother Night, tells the story of Howard Campbell, infamous Nazi propagandist and playwright. Mr. Campbell happened to be quite good at his job. Mr. Campbell was one of the world’s most hated individuals.

Unbeknownst to all, Campbell was also one of America’s greatest heroes. He was a spy and his Nazi propaganda actually contained coded messages which greatly aided the Allied effort.

While Campbell had the best of intentions, he will be remembered for his actions, not his intent.

The moral of the story?

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Most coaches have the best intentions in terms of improving the performance of their swimmers.

Are ‘good intentions’ enough?

Do our behaviors always rationally align with intentions?

To what extent are we aware of our how our behavior is being perceived?

Unfortunately, we have little insight into other individual’s intentions; we are left to decipher their behaviors.

Consequently, we will all be judged by the perception of our behaviors, not our intentions.

While Howard Campbell did aid the Allies, he also greatly aided the Nazi effort with his propaganda, a very significant cost associated with the provision of his coded messages.

As coaches, we must be careful to ensure that our intentions do not allow us to justify any means that accomplish them. While we intend to help, our behaviors and our actions might be facilitating something else altogether.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

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