“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well” ~ Catherine Jones
I learned to touch-type on a manual typewriter in a class taught by my mother. She didn’t joke, that lady, you came into her class to gain a skill, and if your intentions were to fool around and waste an hour, you would soon be dismissed. She welcomed males in her class as well as females, prophetically warning that if they didn’t learn to type, they would spend hard-earned resources getting others to type up their college papers for them. Forty years later, many of those males that rejected her offer are still peck pecking away at their laptops, regretting the day they turned their backs on her.
She expected nothing less than perfection of you. Any letter which left your hands should be unblemished. There was no ‘delete’ button on a typewriter, you couldn’t undo or backspace your way onto a clean slate. With paper and typewriter ribbon scarce commodities, you couldn’t afford to start over every few minutes. So she preached a mantra of ‘speed and accuracy’, not one in favor of the other. It was no good having a speed of 80 words per minute if your paper was full of errors. By the same token, no employer would hire you if you turned out perfect work at 20 words per minute. And the only way to obtain both speed and accuracy was with practice.
She turned 91 on Wednesday, and can be proud to know that many of the students who passed through her hands have taken to heart the lessons they learned in that classroom at the top of the stairs. For they went away with lessons about life, about standards, about discipline, about rigor, about the rewards to be earned through effort and care. For those turned off by her stern demeanor and an insistence on paying attention to the little things, they missed out on a wealth of tips, habits and skills.
I actually was reminded about this by a habit I have (a bad one) of being too quick in my reactions. I often jump to conclusions, hear the beginning of a story and assume I know where it is headed; hastily moving on to what I believe is the next step in the conversation. But speed without accuracy is no benefit. How many more of those ‘old-time sayings’ still hold true today?
Another favorite phrase was ‘waste not, want not’. We are learning of the cost of being a disposable society. In our parents and grandparents time, recycling was driven by poverty, a need to get every possible use out of each item. But there was also a respect for the labor that went into producing items, nothing was taken for granted. Native Americans believe in recycling as a way to show respect for the generosity of Mother Earth, ensuring that generations to come will still be able to live off nature’s bounty.
This week I heard about a book written by scientist Elizabeth Kolbert: “Sixth Extinction”. You may have heard about the last extinction, it was when the dinosaurs disappeared, thanks to an asteroid. Well it turns out that we humans are the equivalent of an asteroid, when it comes to biodiversity. Our lifestyles are contributing to the extinction of species on a daily basis. Waste not, want not. Simple words, complex advice. I have quoted the words I heard my father say (but have been attributed to both Gandhi and Mother Theresa): “Live simply, so others may simply live”. We need to be more conscious of the consequences of our actions over the long term, and make choices that can improve the health of our global community.
What words of advice that we pass on to our children will ring true a hundred years from now? The reality of instant gratification in a tech savvy generation makes you wonder how they will learn to cope with adversity. They are used to quick fixes and easy answers. Life’s problems are mostly too complex for Google. Last week I wrote of long road trips of fifty years ago, back when you had to provide your own entertainment and distractions. Can today’s children use their imagination, make up stories, or survive without Ipads and Netflix? When my mother was encouraging young men to learn skills they thought they would never use, she was not foreseeing a world of keypad driven gadgets.
In the space of a generation we have seen untold advances and inventions, many of which make our life so much easier. When my mother was creating paper programs for special events at church, she had to map out the design and then draw her designs with a stylus and type it on a special stencil. This involved working out which direction to type each page, so that when printed and folded, everything was in the right order. There was little room for error. Today we pull up a program on our laptop, choose from hundreds of designs and templates, then save and print professional standard creations from the comfort of our own home. Are we losing our talents when we come to rely on easy answers? Will the innovative spark be lost, and become like the appendix, with no known function?
This weekend I hope you can reflect on the lessons of our foreparents, and think of what we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Let us make sure that we are encouraging habits of creativity and patience in the younger generation, so that they are prepared for the challenges of life. For those who have had to suffer through snowstorm after snowstorm, I hope that you were warm and safe, and will continue to stay so.
One Love Family!