Herr Blanke’s Middle Finger and A Lesson in Responsibility 

Herr Blanke entered and, while traversing the classroom, announced, “I have some unfortunate news, I will no longer teach you Math and Physics”. He reached the blackboard and turned to study our bewildered faces.

Silence. At the age of 11, you begin not to like your teachers, but this one was different. He was our class teacher, and we loved him – everybody loved him.

Herr Blanke was old-school and strict. But he also had a sneaky sense of humor and a mischievous smile to go with it. He respected his students and forgave our youthful foolishness. 

Here he was, scanning our reaction with a dead-serious expression. This wasn’t a joke.     

“Oh, I am not going away, I won’t stop teaching you, but just not Math and Physics.” A sigh of relief crawled through the rows of students. We weren’t losing him. Then, what was this all about? 

“From now on, I’ll teach History and Politics”, he declared, causing the class to frown, “…what? You don’t think I can teach History and Politics?” 

I admit I felt the sting of guilt, and we all did. How could we doubt him? 

“The History teacher will teach English, and the English teacher will teach Biology…” 

“That’s not possible”, blurbed a classmate. “Why not?” his voice radiated with excitement as if he’d been waiting for this. His sincerity was unshaken. I began to suspect that we were about to get a profound lesson for life. So I sat back in anticipation while the class started discussing. 

I won’t go into the details but you can read what Herr Blanke said, and how he used his middle finger to get attention, here.

Herr Blanke’s lesson comes to mind when the opinion of a teenage TikTok influencer impacts what we think more than a scientist’s analysis. I think of what I learned that day when I read inaccurate or misleading content based on questionable sources written for the sole purpose of gaining traffic. 

Here’s the thing: Whatever position we fill, we have a responsibility toward the ones that are affected by what we do and say. Teachers have a responsibility toward their students, politicians to citizens, and influencers to followers.

Marketers have a responsibility toward the consumer. As a writer, I have a responsibility toward my readers. To assume that, I need to be competent. Joe Sugerman dedicates the entire first two chapters in his Copywriting Handbook to the importance of general knowledge and becoming an expert on the product you’re selling. 

You need to be an authority on the subject you write about. If it’s a product or a brand, you must get to know it inside and out. It helped make Sugerman one of the most accomplished copywriters of our times. And it bought him trusting, loyal customers.  

Companies often look for a tool like Herr Blanke’s middle finger to get the attention they want. But the class didn’t learn his lessons because of the attention-grabbing bang it caused. We listened because we knew Herr Blanke had integrity and knowledge. We trusted his authority and knew he cared about us. 

Writers -> write responsibly. Readers -> read critically. Companies  -> be trustworthy.

Click to read the whole story.


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