Croskey’s Corner: Thoroughness
The Devil is in the Details
by Bill Croskey
Originally published in October 2015.
I have spent the last four days installing a dishwasher at my house. Yes, I said four days. At $10 an hour (the wage rate I have most recently been paid) I have “earned” about $150.00, which, coincidentally, is how much Sears charges to install. As usual with Home Improvement jobs done by me, a simple procedure became more complicated because of some hidden plumbing problems at my house, and my lack of experience and know-how. I think I am done, but we shall see.
I care about our dishwasher primarily because I am the one who loads and unloads it. I have developed a reputation around here for being obsessive and compulsive about how the dishes are prepared for the washer and how to load them. This has worked against me. My family members are either afraid to load dishes themselves – don’t want to displease me – or they see no point because I will just rearrange them after they leave. So, I have stuck myself with the whole job.
This project is instructive for me because it shows my over-doing of a job. If the instructions say to tighten a bolt with half a turn, I give it three-quarters turn (and STILL have a tiny leak!). If something should be secured with 2 screws, I put in an extra one. Why? I learned this from my Dad. He is an engineer, and he taught his kids to do a job right the first time, to double-check to make sure everything was “tight,” in short, to be Thorough.
The Character Quality of the Month from Character First! Is Thoroughness. It is defined as “Taking care of necessary details.” The dishwasher loading is my own brand of Thoroughness. I got in the obsessive habit of basically washing the dishes before I put them in the dishwasher because I had noticed that, when I didn’t do this prep, at the end of the cycle I ended up having to rewash many of the dishes. So, I learned to pay attention to details. If I didn’t mind them, my work would be diminished. I think my family might say, with multiple-meaning, that “the devil is in the details.”
What do we know about Details? Well, late in life I learned that the term relates to cleaning cars. I remember that a friend went out with a new acquaintance. On the way home, my friend became violently ill and vomited. A day later, as a way of cleaning up what was started (another aspect of Thoroughness!), my friend had the car detailed. I came to understand that this meant a meticulous, Thorough, comprehensive cleaning of the car, inside and out. The term threw me because I at first thought it involved some kind of additional painting (of flames? Pinstripes?) on the exterior finish. Nope, just clean every surface of the car. Well, that fascinated me! I knew how to do that. I had done it. I just didn’t know it had a name.
I thought of this whole story recently because a window in my car was broken and I had to clean up every shard and piece of glass. Talk about the detailing being devilish! But maybe this is a metaphor for us. When we make a mess of something, there is value in trying to make amends. That might involve re-establishing communication with a friend. It might mean trying to un-gossip, to go out and retrieve half-truths spread without care. It might mean cleaning up what we have perpetrated. A thorough cleaning will be the equivalent of detailing a car. No stone left unpicked up. No thread unthreaded. No dirt allowed to settle. No stain to remain.
Checking details Thoroughly also reflects our commitment to Discipline and Integrity. Discipline is adhering to a set of standards and Integrity is checking for consistency with our values. So, we can show our Thoroughness by not straying from our rightful path and by monitoring our actions to be sure they are consistent with each other and with our beliefs. This can look obsessive and rigid to others. Yet those close to me who embody Discipline choose it when the outcome matters most. The stakes are very high, such as the welfare of a child or the preservation of a friendship. In fact, the most Disciplined, well-Integrated people I know are also free-thinking and comfort-loving. Heck, they might have been described as wanting to “Do their own thing” in the hippie era. My wife calls it being a “lush.” But when they are involved in a high-stakes situation, Discipline and Integrity kick in. They do not settle for an incomplete approach. They consistently structure their solution to such problems. They wish they did not have to be patient. They wish they could avoid the hard, dirty work. They wish they could let things slide. But they care so much about being Thorough that they force themselves to be Patient, Courageous, and Hard-Working. Others think it is easy… or rigid of them. It is likely neither.
We could teach our students this. Sometimes, apologizing is not enough. Sometimes you have to fix what you have messed up. You have to undo what you have done. You have to detail your mess. Sometimes, you have to choose Discipline over the easy way. Sometimes you have to carefully check to see that you are not contradicting yourself in word or deed. The best way for us to teach this to kids is to model such thought and action in real-life situations. That would be Thoroughly appreciated.