It wasn’t the best road trip we had ever taken. We were on our way to visit my family in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, a trek of some 850 miles from our home in Arkansas. The fellow who had sold me the 1965 Chevrolet (an old car even then) told me it was a “cream puff” with low miles and a motor in top condition. Now though, the suspicious tapping noise coming from under the hood belied his description. As we slowed down in the sleepy little town about 60 miles from our destination, the severe vibration from the motor further inflamed my suspicions that this was not the babied little old lady’s vehicle I had been led to believe.
We limped the final miles at half speed and finally saw the end of our journey. A couple days of trying to pinpoint the problem under the hood got me nowhere, so I broke down and took the car to a local garage (a serious blow to my ego and checkbook). Their ace mechanic found and repaired the problem in less than 24 hours, with the admonition that the issue could rear its ugly head again without any advance warning. Since “forewarned is forearmed”, I took the opportunity before heading home to read up on the problem and its various remedies.
Sure enough, we had only been on the road home for about an hour and a half when we experienced the same problem. It was a Saturday afternoon and we assumed we were sunk. But as we rolled unsteadily north, we spied a garage with its overhead doors open and turned in. Oh, there were mechanics here, but they were finished for the week and were simply socializing with each other. As we explained our problem, they leapt to the inevitable conclusion that we would be spending the weekend in the local motel. The repair couldn’t be done on the spot, but the motor would have to be disassembled and the part sent to Kingsville, another 30 miles up the road. But a little knowledge is a great confidence builder, so I asked for a pry bar and a piece of rope, if they could also provide the valve spring I needed from their junk yard out back. Thirty minutes later, after a fair amount of exertion on my part and none at all on theirs, the problem was repaired and we were back on the road home.
I have to admit that even today, I want to gloat and remember the looks on their faces as the repair was effected. As we left, I asked for a couple of extra springs and the rope, which they gave to me, telling me that “anyone who could do that repair with a rope could have it for nothing!”. I showed these pros! Nanny, nanny, boo, boo! But, that attitude assumes that my victory was over the mechanics standing around that day and it would be the wrong conclusion to draw from the experience.
My conquest that day was not over any man, even the irritating gentlemen standing around making snide remarks. It certainly didn’t hurt that they were silenced by the feat, but the enemy was ignorance, not people. If I had paid my money to the first mechanic earlier in the week and trusted to dumb luck, my family would have been stranded in a strange town with nowhere to go (and very little money). Preparation paved the way for success, even in a field for which I have no affinity. I do not aspire to be a mechanic and that’s a good thing, since I hate being dirty. But, if I had not studied the problem, I would have had no idea of the cure and would have taken for granted that the best minds around (that shop anyway) knew the proper procedure for rectifying the issue.
Now, lest you get the wrong idea, let me disabuse you of the fallacious notion that I systematically prepare for life’s problems. I find myself constantly at a disadvantage through my penchant for rushing in with no study or rehearsal. In the week in question, I just acted enough out of character to achieve a resounding success and even though the life lesson is inescapable, I still fall flat on my face frequently.
The life lesson? First of all, preparation and learning make success possible, even probable. Way back in the 16th century, Francis Bacon said, “For also, knowledge itself is power.” Secondly, and just as importantly, arrogance directed at those who don’t share your experience sets you up for a fall. Those mechanics weren’t ignorant, they just had tunnel vision and couldn’t see other solutions than what they had been taught. If they were following Mr. Bacon’s advice, they also needed to know that the Apostle Paul had these words for men in similar situations, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12 NASV)
We live in an incredible era, when knowledge is literally at our fingertips. When problems assail us, the answer is seconds away. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never need a professional, it just means that we can face the pro with the added leverage of a little knowledge of our situation. Take advantage of the opportunities which are afforded to expand your brain. There’s always more to discover! We can never stop learning, never stop seeking knowledge. Oh, and never, never assume that someone else won’t come along and show us up for the ignoramuses we really are.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.” (from Oh The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss)