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.