I belong to that era when families ate meals together at regular times. It was family time and nothing was allowed to interfere. My sister and I knew that bickering was not allowed at the table. If we slipped and … Continue reading
We all have challenges—from minor to mammoth. My mother taught me to sew when I was young, maybe six or seven. I had to learn to even out my stitches by hemming dish towels. By the time I was eight, I was learning to make clothes for my dolls, and by the time I was ten, I was learning to make clothes for myself. To me, the hardest part of sewing was making the hem of a dress come out evenly. Machine work was simple, but evening out a hem seemed impossible to me.
My Mother had a saying that helped not only with this dilemma but with later problems in my life as well. The saying was simply that if it can’t be seen from a galloping horse, it didn’t matter. The saying always struck me as both funny and true. The phrase goes back a century to the days when it was commonplace for people to travel on horseback. I always pictured a young girl in a newly-made dress standing on the sidewalk as a young man she likes rides by on the road. To the young girl, the young man’s perception of her matters greatly, and if he doesn’t notice that her hem is crooked, then the evenness of the hem doesn’t matter. And, clearly, no one riding by on a galloping horse is likely to be able to distinguish an uneven hem.
The underlying message is that we are too anxious about nonessentials. The newer version of this truism—don’t sweat the small stuff—was also true more than a century ago. Perfect stitching doesn’t matter unless it’s going to be examined close at hand. Seen from a distance, the hem need only appear generally even. I have to believe that is true about much in life. Do we really need to spend hours making our houses perfect, our cars spotless, and our abs rock hard? If viewed from a galloping horse, would any of those perfections really matter?
I’m not suggesting that we live, drive, or eat like slobs. I am suggesting that we give ourselves a break and remember that perfection may never exist in the relative world. Les Brown, a wonderful motivational speaker, tells listeners to forget the word “perfection.” He says that practice creates not perfection but improvement, and that is what we need to aim for in our lives. We all want to be better, but when we try for perfection, we fail and then we blame ourselves. That guilt lowers our self-esteem even further.
Instead of condemning ourselves for our failures or comparing ourselves to the plastic perfection shown in glossy magazines, perhaps we could stop for a moment and imagine ourselves as viewed from a galloping horse. How would we appear? Would our hems or our flaws really be so terribly noticeable? I believe that seen from such a perspective, we would all appear more appealing, even more perfect, and we could be more at ease with ourselves.
Vintage dress model and sewing equipment: ID 1152116 © Natalia Guseva | Dreamstime.com
I’ve always been intrigued by cultural difference in the language of decisions. An American would say, “I made the decision to attend a college in the Midwest.” In French, as well as other languages, the phrase translates more as “I took the decision to attend a college in the Midwest.” The difference seems simple, but to me it reveals a difference in mindset. The American phase to make a decision has a certain sense of agency to it, emphasizing the role and voice of a do-er. The phrase may even suggest an attitude of command, perhaps an attitude that the speaker is confident of the decision that has been made. The phrase to take a decision, on the other hand, reveals less surety, more awareness that the speaker considered multiple possibilities and then chose one to pursue.
Although I (being American) use the “make” version of this phrase, I actually identify more with the “take” version. I think “take” when I say “make” and by doing so, reveal the continual state of ambivalence I feel about the process of forming any decision. I always seem to see a dozen different sides to every issue and am never sure I know which is the better (or best) path to pursue. I realized early on in life I needed some kind of standard—some verity—that would help me decide on the correct path to pursue in any situation.
Religions offer guidance on the different decisions one faces. I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church, and we had the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and various other scriptures that provided guidelines for living one’s life. Somehow, though, when I am in the midst of the deciding process, too many prescriptive rules confuse the path. I need one simple idea—one clear standard.
Robert Frost’s decision to take the “path less traveled” in his famous poem “The Road Not Taken,” seems to offer an attractive alternative to the prevailing mindset of the moment, and being a product of the sixties, I somewhat identify with the rebelliousness couched in that dictum. Ultimately, though, that choice of pursuing the path less traveled doesn’t really offer the guidance I need because the speaker merely concludes that such a choice made “all the difference,” and that’s a pretty ambiguous conclusion. We don’t know if the different is for the better or for the worse, so how helpful is that? Not very.
A decade or so after the sixties, in the course of learning to meditate, I ran across the verity that works for me: “Highest First.”1 It is such a simple dictum. I interpret this phrase to mean that in any situation that involves a decision, decide for the option that offers the highest value of life. I’m always astonished by how that cuts out certain options immediately and, ultimately, helps eliminate all options except one.
Applying the “Highest First” principles to any decision, whether it’s which job to pursue or whether to buy that larger bag of M&M’s, cuts through all the rationalizing we indulge in when we are forced to decide on a course of action. I’ve always stewed over whether to go for the money angle when hunting a job or the enjoyment angle (somehow they never seem to coincide), but when I think “highest first,” I know that bringing home a good salary from a job I hated would never work for me. The highest value for me is enjoying what I do each day, so I tended to take the decision that led to that possibility. Admittedly, the larger bag of M& M’s dilemma has been harder for me because that choice involves enjoyment vs. balanced good health. If I don’t think about the principle of highest first, I’ll always choose the larger bag of M&M’s, but when I do think “Highest First,” then I can remember that my health has the higher priority, and I reach for the small bag.
Exploring paths less traveled and following the golden rule of doing unto others as I would have them do unto me can offer good experiences and positive benefits, but for a cutting-edge principle that helps me through any decision, I choose the principle of “Highest First.” This phrase creates the clearest, simplest, and most profound thought process and lets me take/make the right decision and leads me along the right course of action.
1 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi identifies the principle of “Highest First” as upholding the movement of the mind toward the pure field of creative intelligence. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (1972). The science of creative intelligence. [33-videotape series]. Livingston Manor, NY: MIU Press.