Toot Your Own Horn
Today on this the eleventh day of Christmas, many people are walking around humming quietly to themselves “Eleven pipers piping.” Are you now envisioning a chorus from John Phillip Sousa with a bevy of piccolo players all marching in formation? Perhaps you are seeing twelve curly-headed Greek lads playing the pipes of Pan. You might know a bit about musical instruments and imagine eleven Chinese musicians playing something similar to a lute known as a “pipa” which is very similar to the Persian Barbat or hu-pipa. You might even be imagining hearing the glorious sounds of a pipe organ, often called the granddaddy of all musical instruments. Does anyone really want to hear eleven people all standing their bragging about their accomplishments, the definition of the slang phrase “toot you own horn”?
The fact of the matter is that a “pipe” can have many different meanings and so can how we relate to people. I remember once working at a facility that provided materials for tradesmen. The head of a plumbing shop was asked how many workers he had assigned to a specific project and at what stage were they working. His answer made perfect sense to him: “I’ve got eleven pipers piping.” He referred to the pipefitters who were installing the pipes for the large restrooms in the four-story building. Even though it was mid-August, someone immediately began singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Bet you definitely were not thinking of sanitation when you read that first paragraph, huh?
One might not expect such confusion regarding this song and yet, although it is the most parodied Christmas carol known to man, it is also the most misunderstood. Many people think the song was developed to teach Roman Catholic confirmands the dictates of the church doctrine, a pneumonic memory device to help them learn the catechism. After all, for a period in England, one could hang or be beheaded for belonging to the Roman church.
The problem with this theory is that nothing in the song differs from what the Anglican Church believed. It would only have put someone in harm’s way if they spoke of differences between the two religions, not what they shared in common. The rhyme actually appeared one hundred years before credit is given. First published in the Americas, Amherst, Massachusetts to be exact, in 1868, the rhyme appeared in 1780 in a publication known as “Mirth without Mischief” and again in 1842 in James Orchard Halliwell’s “The Nursery Rhymes of England.
Tying this song to the catechism of either denomination, the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Church is simply someone’s imaginative way to “toot” the Church’s own horn. Nothing in the supposed metaphorical stanzas differs from one to the other – the two sections of the Bible, the recognized Christ, the disciples, the days of the week, etc. It does serve to remind people of the division between the two faiths and the turmoil caused by such.
Is it possible to toot one’s own horn without causing derision? In writing for Forbes magazine, Ty Kiisel thinks the answer is yes but he does explain some basic rules for doing so. First, only take credit for what you yourself have actually done. Publishing the song might have seemed like a great idea but those who did so after the original publishing in the late eighteenth century were riding on someone’s else’s credit. This leads to Kiisel’s rule number two which is share credit when it is due and, rule three, give praise to those who deserve credit. Giving praise to another does not diminish you; it actually helps you so do not be stingy when it comes to giving praise to someone. And the two magic words for practically every situation…”Thank you”. Use them liberally.
Whether you are playing the highest part of a marching band on the piccolo or simply working at your desk, it is important to appropriately toot your own horn for good deeds. They tend to encourage others and we all know the world needs more positive behavior. As the holiday season winds down, there will never be a better time to inspire goodness in this world. Circus owner P.T. Barnum famously said, “Without promotion something terrible happens—nothing.”