Last week we went to help my sister & family with their remodeling. Emma doesn’t quite have the hang of carpentry, but she did a great job being snugly. I haven’t done much carpentry in the last few years; I missed the smell of sawdust.
Working with wood is a privilege. While it is a renewable resource, good wood is older than me, so it deserves respect, even reverence. I am still too impatient for proper reverence, that’s why I am not a particularly good carpenter. But I am glad to be able to practice.
The incredible feeling of the wood changing shape under your hands, the bite of a saw blade sliding across the grain, the spray of sawdust against your beard, the lines of grain sliding and rippling across the wood — there is something irrefutably alive in doing this work, even in the sore hands and back each morning.
I also like to imagine that years from now, some of the work I’ve done will still stand. Patty (my wife) and I used to do remodeling, and I know that most of those jobs are still in use a decade later — but some of the houses we worked on were 100 years old. There are not many times in life when you set your hand to a task knowing that it could be a part of the world in another 100 years.
In EQ workshops I often to quote Dean Inge (British clergy, mid 19th C), “The proper time to influence a child’s character is 100 years before he is born.” At least in the US, I don’t see a lot of us thinking in 100 year intervals. Business results have to be this fiscal quarter, political results have to be this term (at the longest), success in the arts is a month long flurry of attention, even education is not about life, it is about this grading period. It is not so much that we are short-sighted as it is that we are distractible. There are so many distractions — and we are constantly manufacturing more of them to distract ourselves from the fact that these are simply distractions.
If I was a good carpenter, and properly reverent toward the wood, I would be less distractable. Right now, I am so concerned about the whole that I often miscut the piece in front of me. I am so enamored of my high-tech saw that I do not give care to my simple square and ensure an accurate cut. Distractions, in other words, are not just shoot-em-up movies — they are also subtle.
Maybe the real privilege of working with wood is that I am allowed to do that too. Sometimes I am surprised that I can be a carpenter, a writer, a teacher, a graphic artist, a computer-geek, a husband, a daddy, and… perhaps if I did one, I could be great at it. But in letting my life be full of all of these, each one is enriched by the other. If I can stay open to each experience, then each one creates context and meaning for the others.
If parts of myself are unfulfilled, that despair permeates all of what I do; if I am fulfilled, then that energy infuses what I do. If I give myself time to walk in nature, then my work will be charged with that positive feeling. If I give myself time to play with my daughter, then my decisions will be enriched by that perspective. It is not successful to “work on” one piece of a person (or a society) and ignore the others.
There is so much pressure to be narrow. I remember that when I first went to college, I double-majored in Physics and Drama. It did not last long… but while it did, I enjoyed people’s reaction to the apparent dichotomy. It made perfect sense to me then, but did not work in the university. Then, as now, I feel like I might just be frivolous, uncommitted, even. Certainly my grandmother would prefer a neat job title, and lots of letters after my name to identify my specialization.
Later, I was fortunate to teach in a school that believed in integrated curriculum (and for us that specifically included integrating thoughts, feelings, and actions, the student’s own lives, and our own lives with the academic content). Still, I found it enormously challenging to just teach children — it is much easier to teach history, or grammar. Academia is fond of categorization; the smaller the box, the more carefully defined, the less risk, the less uncertainly. At the same time, when a child asks “why should I learn this?” and I answer, “because you will need it later,” I am not reverent enough of the who the child is now.
In the business side of Six Seconds we get the same thing. In a recent meeting, a strategic advisor was incredulous when we said that we work with children and youth and teachers and administrators and parents and trainers and corporate leaders and the general public… that is not how business succeeds! But isn’t it how society succeeds? As a society, we desperately need a peek over the walls of the maze. We need interconnections, we need a nexus where all of our specializations can re-connect into a larger whole.
Likewise, when as individuals we slot into specialization, we succeed in an outward manner — but without the context, that success is meaningless. It is an illness to live in a tiny box where we can not see any connection between “I” and “we,” or between today and 100 years from now.
I am convinced that I have *not* yet figured it out; I find myself playing with those tantalizing distractions (even creating them sometimes), I find myself missing the connection between this action and that responsibility, and I find myself attached to the outcomes. But, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to keep trying, and that I can keep trying in so many different areas.
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