By Scott Welsh
Having been stimulated by Pirsig's works, I decided to write some of the results of that stimulation in the form of some small essays. They are very rough drafts with many holes I'm sure, but they are my fledgling attempts at putting some of elements of the metaphysics of quality in to "every day" use. Please give feedback as to whether this essay is interesting, banal, having some sort of potential or whatever. It would be much appreciated and very helpful. My e-mail address is: email@example.com.
Usually they come from nowhere. You're just minding your business, getting through the day, and they strike with no rhyme, no reason, no purpose - and it can happen anywhere to anyone at anytime.
In my world, they come mostly in the form of parents. I am in charge of a junior tennis program where we try to train kids to reach their potential. Some of our kids grow to be very good and some just grow to be a little better than they used to be. Our philosophy, though, is to give everyone a chance to realize their dreams. I announce this philosophy to the kids almost weekly and, furthermore, all of our drills are based on a lot of interchange of various kids at various levels. On any given day, a nationally-ranked student could find him or herself on a court drilling with an intermediate or even an advanced beginner. As I said, everyone gets a chance. Maybe that is why I never see them coming.
Well, that's not necessarily true. I do see them coming. They come right down the stairs onto the courts with their kids, bringing with them tell-tale come-hither hand motion: Are you the Director? May I have a word with you? The sinking feeling in my heart is matched only by the rising tide of red-hot rage. I keep my clenched fist behind my back.
"We've got a little problem here, Mr. Director. Little Tommy isn't getting pushed enough in your program. You see, he's really an exceptional kid. He plays soccer, lacrosse, badminton and rows on the crew team. He also plays the cello, feeds the homeless and has a 5.356 grade point average on a 4.0 scale. He has so many talents; I need him to be challenged and he wasn't challenged by the kids he drilled with yesterday. Is there any way you could place him on a higher-level court?"
The rest of my day never stood a chance. I know that yesterday Tommy smacked thirteen balls off the ceiling along with three other kids standing in line. I know that Tommy lost 11-2 in a point-play game with a seven-year old just moved up from the pee-wee classes. I know this but I'm forced to say, "Yes, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am. I'll definitely look into it and see what I can do." Now instead of trying to help this kid I feel like I hate this kid. I want this kid to fail more than anything, if only to show this crazy person blinded by God-knows-what that she is, in fact, a crazy person. My mood, whatever it was, is ruined.
What's worse is that this encounter reminds me that these people are everywhere. It's lunch time, so I stop by Wendy's because I only have fifteen minutes for lunch. Just when it's my turn and I think I actually might get to sit down a minute, the person in front of me begins to complain because there's pickles on his junior cheeseburger. And he's adamant. He DID NOT order pickles and he wants it changed! Don't you people understand? The indescribable delectability of a ninety-nine-cent value-meal burger is absolutely destroyed if it is corrupted with pickles!
On the way back to work, I feel like I've been surrounded. For the grand finale I get a taste the old smoke-your-cigarette-instead-of-making-the-turn-at-a-red-light villain. I sit there behind this person admiring the view of the road (as it has been unencumbered by traffic for a long time now), counting how many minutes I am going be late. When I can't take any more, I give my fellow driver a little honk, only to be greeted by a middle finger and a screaming stream of epithets. "Don't honk at me, you piece of &%$#@!"
They are the Day-Wreckers and they are dangerous. They can take a day of your life away from you, just like that. The reason why, though, is quite serious. It isn't just a matter of not letting them get to you or trying to be above all that. There is something much deeper than that.
Football coach Lou Holtz once said that the person who complains about the bounce of the ball usually dropped it. It's absolutely true. The person who complains is usually the person to blame. "Why are you complaining about how the ball bounced," you want to ask. "Hasn't it occurred to you that it wouldn't be bouncing at all if you hadn't DROPPED it?" But the complainer doesn't see that. The complainer is too lost to see that. The complainer has completely missed the point. And not just about the bouncing ball.
Whether we admit it or not, all of us seek Quality. Some will call it religion; some will call it Buddha; others will call it success. Whatever. The point is that we all are seekers. Or at least we used to be. The Day-Wreckers seek something else and that's what makes them so sickening. Tommy's mom, consciously or unconsciously, knows that Tommy is terrible. But somehow in her derangement, she has displaced this realization with antagonism. She is going give up the actual search for Quality and start blaming other people. It's other people's fault Tommy has no quality. It's other people's fault he's not any good. And if she blames hard enough and long enough, Tommy never HAS to get better because it's not his fault any more. Somebody else screwed Tommy up. Pretty soon, Tommy has no friends because he follows mommy's lead and then it's time for more blaming. Blaming leads to more blaming and eventually the idea of Quality has been buried too deep to be resurrected. The next thing you know, you're arguing at Wendy's over a worthless 99¢ burger and sitting aimlessly at a red light thinking over who you're going to blame next with your best friend the Marlboro Man.
In his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig discusses gumption traps--traps that hinder you from finding Quality. He didn't mention blame. Nothing takes you further from Quality than blaming. It is poison for the soul. Leave Tommy alone; he will improve when he's ready. Quit arguing over a stupid sandwich; this is not a five-star restaurant. Make the gosh-darn right turn if a car isn't within a country mile; you will save some time in your day. The Japanese have a saying: fix the problem, not the blame. Spend your days solving problems and the Quality in your life will increase exponentially. Look for the Quality in everyone and everything and don't make excuses. And stay away from those who are only interested in placing blame. The day you save will be your own.
Pirsig said in his book that people are so lost that it is as if "The truth knocks on the door and [people] say, 'Go away, I'm looking for the truth.'" If the truth knocked on their door, The Day-Wreckers would complain about the noise. What would you do?
See also The Cave (sequel to The Day Wreckers)