Courtesy, priorities, balls and beers!

Have you ever wondered why we tend to be more polite with total strangers than we are with our own family?  Think back the last time you accidentally bumped into a passer-by – I wouldn’t be surprised if you had said something like “I’m sorry, please excuse me.  I didn’t see you coming around the corner!”  Now think back to the time when you accidentally collided into your child at home – I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you had sternly retorted with “Can’t you see where you’re going?  Move out of the way!”

If you’re saying to yourself now, “Yah huh, it’s true”, you’re not alone.  When someone spoke to me about this recently, I had to sheepishly admit to him that I, for one, am “guilty as charged”!  It would seem at first that these reactions are totally normal, but you need only look a sliver below the surface to realise that if we can be so polite to people we don’t even know, how much more we should be considerate and show courtesy to the people who are closest to us?

You may ask – but why do we react the way we do?  Is it familiarity that breeds contempt?  Is it an ingrained unconscious habit to take things too much for granted at home?  Or is it just something that’s intrinsic in our culture?  A memorable quote from a 1970 classic romance movie entitled “Love Story” goes like this – “Love means not having to say you’re sorry!”  Perhaps these and many more similar “tinsel town” punch lines made deep impressions on those of us who remember what it was like growing up in the sixties.  It was a time where we readily and unquestioningly soaked up whatever the West was dishing up, regardless of whether these were right or wrong.  Today, of course, we know better than to believe and hinge our hopes on a few nice-sounding words strewn together by some cheesy Hollywood screenwriter!

I’m not sure if the mutated DNA of the modern world we live in today has contributed to our sometimes incongruent behaviour.  Many of our values and priorities seem to have been somewhat compromised or misplaced along the way.  Think about this – the way we so passionately pour ourselves into our work so often exceeds the enthusiasm & dedication which we are prepared to shower upon our families.  In the same breath, we readily acknowledge the fact that if we died tomorrow, the company we are working for could easily replace us in a matter of days.  But the family we leave behind will feel the loss for the rest of their lives. 

In spite of this, many of us continue to partake in such “unwise investments” which invariably yield poor rates of return.  I know of people in my office who spend so much time at work, to the extent they’ve admitted to their peers in jest that they know more of their fellow colleagues, than their own spouse and kids!  For me, this is no laughing matter – especially as valuable lives are at “stake”!

Writing about all this serves as a check & balance for me, with regards to my priorities and how I choose to align these with the way I live my life.  This reminds of a story I heard some years ago [you may find this familiar as many versions of it have been circulating on the internet].  As an avid golfer, this is my favourite:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty glass jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.  He then asked the students if the jar was full?  They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.  He shook the jar lightly.  The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.  He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up everything else.  He asked once more if the jar was full.  The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.  The golf balls represent the important things – your family, your health, your children, your friends, your favorite passions – the kind of stuff that if all else was lost and only these remained, your life would still be full.  The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car.  The sand is everything else – the small stuff.  If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there will be no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.”

You know, the same goes for life.  If you spend all your time and energy on the small things, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.  Pay attention to the elements that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children.  Set aside time for your medical checkups.  Help out at a charitable institution.  Take your spouse out to dinner.  Enjoy 18 holes of golf.  

Don’t worry.  There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the hinge on that cupboard door.  Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter.  Get your priorities right.  The rest is just sand.

However, the story does not end here.  One of the students raised her hand and enquired what the beer represented.  The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.  It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.”

Today’s piece has made me real thirsty.  Think I might just go home early tonight, collide with my wife, and then ask her politely to join me for a few pints!  Cheers!

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