The Drum Major Instinct

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

I challenge you, no I dare you, to listen to this recording.

On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, I decided to spend some time listening to old recordings of him speaking. The last thing I expected to hear was Dr. King sum up my feelings about fly fishing perfectly but, through some magical synchronicity, there it was. I don’t know that Dr. King ever touched a fly rod but, as a group, he sure had our number.

It came up just the other day, listening to a fly fishing podcast. My face flushed and blood boiling as I listen to a couple of fishing guides talk about people getting recognition they “didn’t deserve.” If you haven’t done this yourself, you’ve heard it. The advent of social media has been a real thorn in the side of the folks who consider themselves the fly fishing elite. Suddenly, all sorts of folks are getting attention online and old guard are faced with a platform they don’t understand and what they see as undeserved power.

Don’t misunderstand me, there is a lot of horse shit on social media. In general, I have a fairly dim view of social media and the irony of that is not lost on me. What makes me angry is the idea that some group of elitists owns fly fishing. I’m not very good at articulating it, irony again, but it’s a real hot button issue for me. It has been my sole focus, since starting G&G, to try and create a place where all are welcome and equal. To make fly fishing more inclusive and less exclusive. This idea of who “deserves” followers, or pro-deals, or sponsorships flies in the face of everything I believe.

MLKDr. King calls this the Drum Major Instinct. The need to be out front, leading the parade. The drive to feel that you are better than others. The real need for attention and praise that lives in every one of us. The need to be the expert. The impulse to raise ourselves up by tearing others down.

My vision of the fly fishing community is one where we do not boast or judge, but where we support. One where we judge ourselves, not by what we know but by what we teach, not by what we take but by what we leave behind.

I want to go on an angry rant, but I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to ask you to listen to a man far wiser than me, who can tell you not only how to be a better angler, but a better person.

Dr. King puts a fine point on it in his final sermon, “ The Drum Major Instinct”, given February 4th, 1968, at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Although the truth and power of this sermon speaks to so much of what is wrong in our society, it speaks, with an eerie precision, to what I see as wrong with fly fishing. I challenge you to listen to the end.

Of course, I realize that this will be controversial, for many reasons. Hopefully I’ll fair better than Dr. King, who was gunned down two months after delivering this sermon. Most of you will likely not listen. Few will hear the whole speech. Plenty will criticize me for sharing it. That’s fine. It’s the truth and truth seldom makes friends.

Dr. King closes his sermon by imagining his own death. Prophetic at the very least, though I expect he knew his days were numbered. He imagines what might be said at his own memorial and he asks those in attendance to bear witness to his wishes.

“Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important… Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others.”

A Quick Disclaimer: This is a recording of a sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The context is therefore religious in nature. I am in no way endorsing or condemning the religious aspects of the recording. They are irrelevant to my point. Please try to suspend whatever beliefs you may have when you listen and, above all, be respectful of others beliefs. Thank you!

I challenge you to listen to this recording of Dr Martin Luther King.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline 
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6 thoughts on “The Drum Major Instinct

  1. Fly fishing is a way to get a hook in a fishes mouth. Honestly, there are probably better ways to accomplish that, for most people.
    But, evangelizing at length and disclaimers always intrigue me on the subject.
    I guess that’s human nature, too.

  2. You could substitute “fly-fishing” for “trout fishing” and “deserves pro deals” to “didn’t work for fish because they threw gear”

    I hope that framing will bring all trout fishers together regardless of their preferred means. The combined forces of both trout fishing communities will bring more regulatory change to protecting riparian zones and canopies.

    Bringing them together on regulations may be different.

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