“Mr. Phillips, we’re recommending that you change the engine filter, as well as the cabin filter.”  The young man standing in front of me was holding a filthy corrugated affair, made of cardboard and plastic.  As he set it on the service counter at the car dealership, his hand seemed to slip and the nasty thing plummeted to the tile floor.  The explosion of dust was instantaneous and it billowed about his feet and legs.  He lifted his hands in resignation and shrugged, the picture of feigned embarrassment, but exuding an air of satisfaction as well, having proved his point. I remember the act from the last time I was here.  On that occasion, he didn’t drop the filter all the way to the floor, just plopped it clumsily on the counter top, with similar effect.  I purchased the new engine filter that time, too.

I’m intrigued with filters.  In our modern day, we are surrounded by them.  We have filters to strain our coffee, filters on our faucets, in our clothes dryers, on the return air vent of our air conditioners, even on the tips of tobacco cigarettes. You may not recognize them as such, but the screen doors and windows on your house are filters, keeping out the flies and bugs, while allowing the air to flow through and cool the house.  We are surrounded by filters, those devices which allow the desired substance to flow freely through, and yet keep out the undesirable elements, whatever they may be.

I have noticed several things about these filters.  The most important thing that I note is that they need to be kept clean.  Sometimes that is accomplished by washing, sometimes by putting a new one in place.  The effect is the same.  When the same filter is kept in place day after day, week after week, year after year, it becomes less effective in one of two ways; it either clogs up, or it deteriorates, allowing the damaging particles to slip through.  Either option is unacceptable, the one reducing the flow of good things, and the other allowing too much of the bad to mix in with the good.

The other thing I have noticed, and this is almost universal, is that very few people pay any attention to their filters.  I bet most of you don’t change any of the filters you use as often as you should, with the possible exception of the coffee maker, since it is impossible to use with an old one.  Many times, I have been in a home and notice that the air conditioner is roaring loudly, especially near the return air intake.  “Do you change your filter regularly?”  I’ll ask.  The reply is always one of recriminations.  “No, I keep forgetting.”  “I just can’t remember what the size is.”  “I changed it last year!”  Until we can see obvious problems or symptoms thereof, we tend to ignore the filters, assuming that they are doing their job, whatever that is.

There are other kinds of filters, too.  I read a note in an online forum, to which I am subscribed, today.  The person, just slightly older than I, was complaining about some interaction she had had with someone on a popular social website.  There were several replies, all expressing similar opinions as hers.  These folks were bragging that they don’t use the social media, since everyone there is so “self-serving”.  I wondered if they had lost sight of their own place in this world; forgetting that, as older people, we have the responsibility to be in the marketplace, being part of the ebb and flow of information, sharing our wisdom when appropriate.  You see, when our own filters get so clogged up that only a little of the essence of life is getting through, we selfishly want to keep it all for ourselves, not giving of who we are and what we have learned, except with those who agree with us completely.  The filter is not functioning as it should to allow the necessary substance through.  Our only interest is that it stops what we don’t want.  Many of us seem to fit in that category as we get older.  We want to be left alone and to be able to sit in the snug little cocoons which we have constructed for ourselves, comfortable and blissfully ignorant of all that goes on around us.

On the other end of the spectrum are the times when the filters fail completely.  I am remembering an occasion when a salesman came calling on my late father-in-law.  This man had been coming in for years and during that time, had gained a considerable amount of weight, possibly as many as one hundred pounds.  We all saw that.  What we didn’t do is to call it to his attention publicly. My father-in-law, however, as older people often do, was beginning to believe that honesty really was the best policy, and he blurted out as the man came in, “I believe you’re getting fatter every time I see you!” We were as embarrassed as the salesman was, although he laughed it off, knowing that if he got angry, he would not make a sale.  His filter was still in place, even though my father-in-law’s was not.

You see, filters function for many reasons.  Sometimes, we just need for society to get along, so we filter what we say and do to protect the peace.  Our laws are filters, of sorts, helping us to act responsibly in our interaction with each other.  The restraint we use in our language is another, although that filter seems to be damaged, nearly beyond repair, these days.  Every once in awhile, I have to remind customers in my music store that their filters need to be adjusted, as they become offensive in their speech.  It seems to be a new concept to some of them.

If we wish to effect change in our world, we must each care for our own filters, making sure that they are efficient, as well as intact.  Disaster awaits otherwise.

I hope that, as you observe others who have not, you will resolve to maintain the filters in your life, both the tangible and the internal ones.  Your success as an agent for good depends upon it.

Your air conditioner will probably work better, too!

“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
(Psalm 141:3~NIV)

“Liberty consists in wholesome restraint.”
(Daniel Webster~American statesman and orator~1782-1852)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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