Sometimes, it is small comfort to be right. Especially if you had the right idea but the execution was all wrong. The mechanic smiling up at me from his uncomfortable position on the floor of the car was giving me the bad news. “Yes, it was the clutch interlock switch all along, but you checked the wrong switch. That’s why you couldn’t get it running.” I managed a small smile to convince him that I wasn’t embarrassed at all. I wasn’t successful in the attempt.
It all started a couple of weeks ago when the father of the four greatest children in the world asked me for a little help with his old car. My son-in-law is gifted at what he does, but he stays away from the arena of auto mechanics. Unlike my upbringing, he was not introduced to the application of baling wire and duct tape to various moving and/or stationary auto parts at an early age. His father never did disassemble a starter motor on the dining room table to change the brushes or mount a new solenoid. It was a skill born of necessity for us, not for love of the work, but owning old clunkers has inspired many hours of greasy hands and more than a few skinned-up knuckles. I was game to give it a try again.
“The car won’t even click when the ignition is turned on. Do you have any ideas?” the young pizzeria owner queried. With a couple of questions, I was pretty sure I had the problem narrowed down to two possibilities. “It’s either the clutch/ignition interlock switch or a fuse. There’s an open circuit somewhere.” I spent a few minutes one blazing hot afternoon at the car with him, trying to narrow down the possibilities, but we didn’t have much time to spend. “I’ll come back,” I promised him. It was another week before I could get to it. For a wonder, this time the temperature was more bearable and I had a few minutes more to spare. Focusing on the clutch switch idea (the fuse option was easily tested and discarded), I spent a good bit of time removing the switch which was activated by depressing the clutch pedal. I tested it with my ohm-meter. It worked perfectly, opening and closing the circuit without fail. Just to be sure, I inserted a jumper across the terminals and turned the key. Nothing. Disgusted, I laboriously re-installed the switch and checked one more thing–the current at the starter. There was no voltage there when the key was turned. My diagnosis was still accurate. But, I had checked the obvious source and it was fine! There must be a broken wire somewhere. I couldn’t find any.
I finally gave up and sent a message to my mechanic friend, arranging to meet him at the car today. He checked the same things I had, although much more rapidly. Then, he removed a plastic panel on the underside of the dash, flipped through a wire or two, and searching around for something on the floor, picked up a short length of wire and stripped it quickly, inserting it into a plastic terminal with two wires going into it. He turned the key. The car started instantly!
All of which brings us to the place we started, with the mechanic grinning up at me, and me, biting my lip in frustration. The wrong interlock switch! How ignorant could I be?
You’ve done that, haven’t you? You know the answer to the issue. The knowledge you’ve amassed over your lifetime all points to the correct conclusion. You act decisively and apply the solution to exactly the wrong location. The result is exactly the same as a complete lack of knowledge–Failure! It is an all too familiar situation for me. I have the capacity for knowledge about a wide array of subjects. I love trivia and as a result, have a brain full of answers to many questions. My downfall is the application of the solution. I am gifted at understanding the issues, just not at solving them. I have knowledge, but not much wisdom.
I found myself in another similar situation earlier today. I was waxing eloquent with a few casual customers (meaning that they weren’t actually buying anything today) about the intricacies of copyright law as it applies to the performance of music. I am not a lawyer, but have gleaned a fair amount of detailed information regarding the products sold in my business, so I felt qualified to expound on the issue. I answered a number of questions the men asked, and it seemed to me that they felt enlightened regarding a subject they hadn’t considered much before. Then I blew it. One of the men mentioned an activity he carried out in his ministry, which was in violation of copyrights, as I understand them. I suggested that it wasn’t appropriate for him to do this and he insisted he wasn’t doing anything wrong. I persisted, as I am frequently wont to do, so by the time he left, he was angry at me and I was accusing him of breaking the law. It wasn’t pretty. And, it wasn’t productive.
You see, I know the facts about certain aspects of copyrights. I simply am not skilled at helping others to understand and accept those facts. It would have made sense to drop my argument when I saw that the gentleman was offended. It was clear that there would be no benefit to continuing the discussion, but I saw what I believed was a wrong and was intent on fixing it. Just like the switch under the dash of the car, I turned the wrench again and again, taking apart the wrong thing, only to realize, too late, that I was barking up the wrong tree. I applied my knowledge without the slightest hint of wisdom. I have apologies to make.
This is the point at which a wise man would leave off preaching and let the application sink in. I’m not so wise, but I’m learning. I’ve probably talked enough for one day.
My disappointment at not being able to conquer the Honda is abating. Regardless of the person who achieved it, the car is repaired and my son-in-law has transportation again. All’s well that ends well, yes? I’ll have to pray for another chance with my friend from the music store. Time will tell.
Wisdom is found in odder places than under the dashboard of automobiles…
“Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.'”
(Charlie Brown in the Peanuts cartoon~Charles M. Schulz~American cartoonist~1922-2000)
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.