the desert hides a well

12/12/06

Today Tessa stood in line at the UPS store here on Flatbush Avenue, and right ahead of her was this hipster jerk who, while not being overtly unpleasant, was asking the cashier questions like “um, did YOU spell this name wrong on the label, or did the computer do it?” When, of course, anyone with an ounce of social skills would say, “I’m sorry, I think I might have given this to you incorrectly” or a million other ways of fixing his problem.

This little interaction got me thinking about the incredible effect of Tiny Corrections Over a Long Period of Time. It’s my belief that this hipster guy may have only lost a few seconds of good will on behalf of the UPS store guy, but over the course of time, after years and years of being a 4% asshole, he has amassed weeks of inefficiency upon himself. I’d say that he operates at only four-fifths strength.

Why? Because for every little niggling comment, every little subtly-asinine move, those around him slow his progress by imperceptible microseconds. Sure, he makes everyone else infinitesimally more miserable, but his biggest victim is himself.

I’m amazed at how often Tiny Corrections Over a Long Period of Time can be used in other ways, mostly for benefit. My friends in Alcoholics Anonymous are familiar with the cliché “one day at a time,” which, loosely translated, can mean “I’m not saying I’m never drinking, I’m saying I’m not drinking today.” It’s a philosophy that allows the recovering alcoholic to see his/her sobriety in terms that aren’t so daunting, but if you look at the actual math, “one day at a time” works because it is a small correction that pays incredible dividends over time.

By simply not drinking each day, the days become weeks, then months, and pretty soon your recidivism rate plunges towards zero. I know “simply not drinking” sounds easy to those of us who aren’t addicts, but in the larger scope of things, the intake of alcohol could be categorized as stunningly optional.

In related news, I have lost a fair amount of weight, originally from running with Lucy in the mornings, but lately because of my adventures on Dexedrine. Speed is a natural appetite suppressant, which is why it was doled out to housewives in the 1950s, but I haven’t noticed that effect on me.

What I have noticed is probably two skipped meals a week, simply because I forgot to eat. Also, every time I have lunch or dinner, I finish two or three bites shy of usual. These tiny corrections over time, completely unnoticeable by me, have led to a quick ten pounds or so I’ve given back to the earth, just in two months.

Tiny Corrections is also used for some amazing works of art: bending the wood for the sides of pianos, bringing the neck of a guitar back to true, even jacking up a three-story house and moving it up the mountain.

The problem is, we live in a time when results need to be seen in five business days, or we’re off to the laser surgeon. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a magic number of days, or weeks, when one’s tiny corrections can change almost any basic part of our character. When are we truly free of our addiction? When can we lose weight and actually see it? When will we stop being so defensive and hear criticism without immediately freaking out? How long would it take to take something you once hated and bend it towards your love, like the grand oak on the side of a Steinway?

Tessa’s dad Blakey always said that your character is just your habits. Once you get over how cynical that sounds, it might provide any of us with an unbelievable amount of freedom.

0 thoughts on “the desert hides a well

  1. Alyson Peery

    I always wish I could be more fully devoted to this concept. What a great topic for a post, and so fully anecdotally realized.

    Reply
  2. NOLAcathie

    Great observations Ian.
    Since May I’ve lost about 35 lbs. (and more to go) and every time I go for a doctor’s visit he asks me which diet I’m following, which in turn leaves me fumbling…um, the one where I almost never eat rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, the one where I eat less of everything else…in other words, Tiny Corrections. That with patience to know you are readjusting your life in a positive way can change many negative things in your life. I’m an impatient person so this is teaching me 2 important things – patience and less is more – and I’m amazed how easy it is.
    Another thing to think about in the Tiny Corrections vein is how people often twist the truth maybe just a tiny degree, making everything in the world just a little bit off. Wonder what it would be like if we lived in absolute truthfulness?

    Reply
  3. Zz

    So very true Ian and a great post topic – by reading your blog right now is actually a tiny correction to see if I can glean back some of time from the evil boss man!

    Reply
  4. CL

    I largely agree with you. However, it’s possible that the Hipster guy was actually trying to follow that, too, by making sure that future things that people hand in are filled out properly by the cashier or UPS, instead of being screwed up. Mail is serious business. I don’t believe in being mean to cashiers, etc. But sometimes people also forget the importance of their jobs. If there was a problem at that ups location where the computer was making mistakes or the cashier really wasn’t paying attention, it might have been a reminder to do so.
    People often just fix problems for themselves and don’t think about fixing them indefinitely, for the future.

    Reply
  5. Beth

    Funny, as I read through this post the first time, I immediately felt myself getting defensive on behalf of the hipster dude–not because I’m an ardent supporter of hipsters but because I’m prone to getting nasty with people who piss me off. It’s not just juvenile and unattractive, it’s bad policy, as you point out, because the old adage “You catch more flies with honey” is absolutely true. Last week I ordered two books from B&N.com that were supposed to arrive via same-day delivery but didn’t (moral of this story: don’t expect same-day or even same-week delivery from Barnes & Noble at Christmastime), and I thought about this post when I called LaserShip to complain, and wound up having a nice little chat with the guy rather than bursting a blood vessel yelling at him. And though I’m not holding my breath, he did promise to do his utmost to make it happen today, which he almost certainly wouldn’t have if I’d gone postal. So Tiny Corrections are good for making the world go ’round in more ways than one.

    Reply
  6. Beth

    p.s.: I did in fact get the package tonight, and the guy who brought it had come from Queens. He said, “I heard you were waiting for this.”
    (Can you hear the violins and birds chirping in the background?)

    Reply
  7. Steph Mineart

    An idea I need to implement in my life in the area of exercise.
    I do pretty well at not being rude to service people – I’ve done enough menial jobs to know that piling my crap on a job that’s not fun is pretty cruel.
    But about that phrase Beth mentions “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” That one always bothers me. Sometimes I don’t want to catch files. Sometimes I want to kill mold, or strip wallpaper; tasks in which vinegar is infinitely more useful. I think there are some (select few) appropriate applications for rudeness.

    Reply

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