Thursday, December 27, 2012

Better is Better than More

Boy, did this article bring back memories. 

One of the hallmarks of reaching obnoxious teenage years is the chazar-shtall (pigsty) bedroom. I was blessed with a mother who never insisted on our making the bed (and I read recently that remaking the bed actually encourages dust mites, so whoo!) but that was the only loophole. 

Since I was further down the child roster, in many ways she was mellower with me than with the rest of my siblings. But she also knew how to ensure the best way to achieve some order. 

"Pick up five things," she would command, "and a pair of shoes counts as one." We grudgingly obeyed.  

If children are told to simply "clean their rooms," that's not happening so fast. The chore is too big; where can one begin? In general, the best way to get, at least, some activity is with smaller expectations.

Sometimes (okay, maybe it happened once) I would become so energized from storing away those five items (with a pair of shoes counting as one) that I would be infused with a cleaning frenzy, to the point that Ma would tell me to take a break. 

But my point is, as with any sort of task that has to be undertaken, whether mental, physical, or spiritual, one has to start by breaking it up into smaller components. 

One Shabbos my nephew was whining that I should carry him. While he isn't the heaviest, he is certainly an unaccomodating dead weight. I first told him no way, he is a big boy, and he began to kvetch loudly about how tired he is and how short his legs are. 

Since I complained the same way at his age about walking, I said, "Fine, I'll carry you, but only until that driveway"—which was fifteen feet away"then you have to walk a little." He accepted the deal. He ended up walking more than I carried him, as we made new boundaries for the switch-off—"By that street lamp," "After that bush," "When we get to the traffic light."

To a child, a seven-minute walk feels like forever. But when broken down, it becomes conquerable. 

The same when it comes to improving ourselves. Every Rosh HaShana we make grand, wild plans for our spritual progress; never talking loshon hara again; respecting our parents like nobody's business; our davening will contain so much kavana that moshiach will show up on our doorstep. Invariably, we fail, usually before Succos is out. 

Bigger is not better. As I heard it said by W on Good Eats, "Better is better than more."

Now, I have a room to clean. Five items, with a pair of shoes counting as one.        

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