Friday, January 26, 2007


My father was a perfectionist.

A real, honest-to-goodness, old-school, perfectionist. He was an architect and also a keen DIY enthusiast – always a dangerous combination. Pop was the sort who would measure three times and cut once. So during my childhood, I spent a lot of time holding his surveyor's tape as we measured buildings and sites or standing at the bottom of the ladder handing tools up to him.

Some people seem to labour under the misapprehension that you can fasten two pieces of timber together with nothing more than a few judiciously placed nails. These same people probably think it's enough to measure twice ... [Pah! Careless, slapdash workers no doubt. No craftsmanship. No artistry!] Not Pop. He was a screw-and-glue man.

And to achieve this, he had two drills. Not electric drills, but hand drills. He had two of them because it saved him time to not have to constantly switch out the drillheads. One was set up with a fine timber bit to provide a lead hole for a screw. The second drill had a larger bit, which corresponded to the diameter of the screw head. He would drill his lead hole, pass me that drill and use the other to make a very shallow hole so that he could get the screw head perfectly flush without any risk of splitting the timber. Then he would take a piece of abrasive paper and sand the surface of the wood and the head of the screw and he would only be satisfied when the whole thing was perfectly smooth.

I thought this was normal.

Albert Einstein very perceptively said that common sense is the collection of prejudices we acquire by the age of 18. We now know that babies arrive with a great deal of their personality already hardwired in at birth. But don't tell me that growing up in a household like the one I grew up in doesn't have a 'nurturing' effect.

I didn't have high standards when I came out into the world; I just had the standards that were 'normal' for the home I grew up in. It never occurred to me that you could use less than five coats of paint on metal railings in a coastal area. Of course you would sandpaper and strip a door back to bare wood before repainting it. And it went without question that you would countersink and sand all screw heads ...

Difficulties between human beings occur at so many levels. I find it fascinating to watch the little Universes colliding when very small children are learning to socialise and to take turns in the schoolyard. I don't see the world of work as being much different. When Mr Countersink-And-Sandpaper guy collides with Mr Bash-two-pieces-of-timber-together-with-any-old-nail-you-can-find, it's not that either of them are wrong in their worldview, it's just that they've been brought up so very, very differently.

When the world fails to meet our expectations, it causes us stress. Rarely does it cause us to re-evaluate those expectations and determine if they were reasonable in the first instance.

Therein lies the first step on the road to self knowledge.


James said...

Just lovely. It is so true that the standards we grow up with become the heart of who we are.

It sounds like you had a very special relationship with your father

Rowan Manahan said...

Very special James and your point is so true - our standards and beliefs and prejudices area huge part of who we are and we begine absorbing them almost in our mother's milk. It's only when we have to justify or defend them to the outside world that we realise how deeply ingrained some of these things are.

The Great Nobby said...

Nicely put, as usual, Rowan.

I remember a day about 25 years ago, standing on the sea-wall holding sheets of safety glass for your dad as he repaired the greenhouse. I was fairly persuaded that the high winds that day were going to catch the sheet I was clutching and hurl me to an untimely end on the rocks below. Such was my fondness for Mr. Manahan, however, that I held my ground without a whimper.

Anyway, to address your point: How twue!

When Her Good Self and I first started living together, she berated me for locking the door when I used the bathroom. In her eyes, this was an unconscious expression of mistrust in her. In fact, it was simply what we had always done in my family. However, not locking the door was not just the norm in her family, it was the law!

Such clashes are cultural ones, whether at the family level, the business level or the level of international diplomacy.

At first I tried to persuade her that there was no mistrust. This was met with skepticism. I soon realised, however, that the simplest solution was to modify my behaviour. I embraced change and stopped locking the door.

Since then, whenever my "culture" clashes with another, I ask myself whether my inherited wisdom needs to change. Then I decide the other guy is wrong. ;-)

This topic reminds me of the story with the monkeys, the cage, the banana and the water cannon. If you don't know it, I'll e-mail it to you.