Web Exclusive! Viewpoint: A surveyor’s nightmare.

July 31, 2003
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My nightmare begins with a stroll along a beach. As I walk along the beach late at night, I spot a fire in the distance. As I approach the fire, I hear grumbling voices and see the silhouettes of people against a yellow glow. When I approach the group, they all look quite relieved and rush me to the center of the encircled fire. I am informed that they have been waiting for me. I then get the distinct impression I’m being scolded for being the fly in the proverbial ointment. As my eyes adjust to the light, I begin to recognize several faces in the crowd. The gathering consists of real estate agents, title attorneys, bankers and developers who I work with on a daily basis.

Suddenly, as I stand there dazed and confused, money begins falling from the sky. The entire group begins grabbing the bills and stuffing them into their pockets. Every once and awhile someone will toss a few coins at my feet and request I do a little jig for them. The quicker I prance the faster the cascade of bills becomes. Even though everyone’s pockets are overflowing all I seem to get is their pocket change. The crowd is yelling “Don’t stop, don’t stop!” It soon becomes evident that if I stop, the deluge of currency will cease. When the flow of money ebbs, the crowd is quick to remind me that once again I’ve stopped progress. “All we’re waiting on is you!” becomes the mob mantra. I dance for them faster and faster until I wake up in a cold sweat.

What could this dream mean? If my contribution is key to the deluge of falling money, why do they offer me the “chump change”? Why do I willingly dance to their tune at my expense?

Although nightmares can occur for many reasons—ranging from bad egg salad to unsettled conflict—mine was closely related to the work that is my passion. This led me to reflect on the past 20 years I have spent in the surveying profession. I listed situations in which I have been involved that led me to shake my head in disbelief concerning the antics of some practitioners. I have condensed the essence of these situations into 10 introspective questions. These questions, based on actual events, are offered as food for thought.

  1. Have you ever marketed your surveying services by defaming your competitors instead of improving and promoting yourself?
  2. Have you ever signed a survey certification you felt uncomfortable about just so everyone can hear that magic word so crucial to any real estate transaction: closing?
  3. Do you view continuing education as an evil that must be dealt with instead of an opportunity to improve yourself as a surveyor?
  4. Have you ever been in a legal proceeding and heard words like “estoppel” or “acquiescence” and couldn’t decide if those were terms you should know or just the names of a couple of race horses?
  5. Following the aforementioned legal proceeding, does apathy prevent you from determining what the words estoppel and acquiescence really mean?
  6. When asked your opinion of the Cooley Dictum do you get that deer-in-the-headlights look, then respond, “I really don’t listen to rap music”?
  7. Do you replace boundary from measurements alone instead of finding the boundary and then measuring it?
  8. Are you a “COGO junkie”? (A COGO junkie is any surveyor who simply puts coordinates in a data collector from a deed “that closes.” Then after finding two pins at the jobsite, proceeds to radially “spray” in the remaining corners without consideration to any of the qualitative data in the deed. By qualitative data I mean title identity, calls for monuments, classifying markers as called for or not, paying special attention to the word “to,” etc.)
  9. Instead of advocating the bachelor’s degree requirement for licensure, do you advocate a correspondence course in surveying that is promoted by blurbs placed inside a book of matches?
  10. Do you own a copy of “Brown’s Boundary Control and Legal Principles” by Walter G. Robillard, Donald A. Wilson and Curtis M. Brown but have no idea where it is?

If you can answer yes to two or more of these questions, go stand in the corner. Many of the ills we face as surveyors are of our own making. Many surveyors scoff at GIS, see no need for GPS and never spend quality time each week improving their knowledge of the legal principles involved in surveying. I’ve even heard about a surveyor who testified to his state legislature that a bachelor’s degree isn’t required to practice surveying because computers do all the “hard stuff.” These are the same surveyors who think progress is great, it's just gone on way too long.

If you recognize anything in my diatribe as being a problem with the profession, here are some universal principles I teach all my students at Cleveland State Community College as well as the employees of my company, Savage Surveying and Mapping P.C. If these paradigms of arm chair philosophy are taken to heart, and applied to the surveying profession, our public image will improve tenfold in my humble opinion.

Paradigms of Armchair Philosophy

  1. There are no innocent victims in many situations. Oftentimes our ills are self-induced due to apathy or ignorance. We must define our profession from the inside out.
  2. The maximum effective range of any excuse is zero feet. Comments like “We don’t need no stinkin’ continuing education (or GIS, GPS, degree requirement for licensure)” simply serve as red herrings used to deflect attention from the real issues.
  3. Always telling the truth ensures 50 percent of the population will dislike you. Most people in a boundary dispute don’t want the truth—they want their assumptions shown as correct.
  4. Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Growth can be a painful process. A person’s greatest strength is to know and understand their greatest weakness.
  5. In the movie “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” John Wayne uttered the line “Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” If we surveyors continue to stick our heads in the sand concerning certain issues (i.e. GIS, GPS or education) the profession will soon become irrelevant as far as the public is concerned. If surveyors won’t become proactive about these issues, practicing our profession can only get tougher.

If you’re tired of the image the public has concerning the surveying profession, ask yourself if you are part of the problem or part of the solution. The answer to this question may cause you to squirm a little, but an honest response will yield a much better night’s sleep—trust me.

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