Biased and Proud of It!

“I think we’re working at cross-purposes here,” came the comment from the old man at the other end of the piano.  The heavy old instrument had been purchased from an older couple who no longer had need of it and we were preparing to move it to the music store for restoration.  The piano was on a dolly and we had wheeled it out of the house and down the driveway toward the waiting trailer.  As we approached the open tailgate, it became evident that we would need to turn the piano end for end, since our straps were set up on one side of the trailer and we had the big instrument facing just opposite to the direction in which we needed it.  I had swung my corner of the piano forward at exactly the same instant he had swung his forward.  We almost threw the piano over on its face.  Both of us instantly reversed direction, swinging our corners to the rear.  Of course, again, we almost threw the piano over, only this time it was backwards.

Stopping all movement after my father-in-law’s matter-of-fact statement, we talked for two seconds and agreed that he would move his end forward and I would move my backwards.  The piano swung in a perfect circle and was faced exactly the way we wanted it to go.  Moments later, with the instrument strapped securely to the side of the trailer, we were on the road home.

Cross-purposes.  How is that possible?  We both wanted the same result.  Neither of us wanted the piano flat on the ground in front or behind us.  We wanted it turned around and in the trailer.  How could that be a cross-purpose?  We both did exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.  Surely that is working together!  Except that if we had continued the action we began, we would indeed, have ended up with a stack of scrap lumber on the ground, instead of the musical instrument we had purchased just moments before.

Although it may seem a bit of a tangent, I want to talk for a little while about bias.  Many years ago, I was surprised to hear the Lovely Lady talk about the word as if it were a good thing.  I have always thought bias to be a negative principle, indicating small minds which are immovable, hating people whom they don’t understand or ideas with which they disagree.  I was taken aback as the Lovely Lady spoke of her sewing project and turning material “on the bias” to gain strength and add beauty to the project.  She had to explain to this naive young man that on the bias meant that layers of cloth were cut at an angle to each other.  When they were sewn together, the weave went different directions.  The resulting garment was much stronger and frequently more interesting visually.

Later, I was excited to learn in the course of my work, that guitars frequently are made the same way.  In the music business, we call a plywood top “laminated”, but the fact is that the guitar top is made of three or four plies of wood.  Of course, “laminated” sounds much superior to “plywood”, so all guitar salesmen have adopted the former description and would never use the latter in talking with a customer.  Nonetheless, the top has layers which are glued together on the bias.  In other words, the grain of each layer of micro-thin wood runs at angles to the one on top of it.  The result is an extremely strong top, nearly impossible to crack lengthwise. This is because there is no place on the top where the grain runs straight through either from the top surface to the underside, nor along the length of the body.

The most expensive guitars, on the other hand, have tops made of solid wood, which vibrates more uniformly and therefore sounds better, but I see these guitars all the time with cracks in them.  The owner may have left the guitar in his car while he worked his shift at the factory, exposing it to extremes in temperatures and humidity.  When he pulls it out to play with his buddies after work, he can’t understand why there is a crack running from one end of the guitar to the other.  A solid piece of wood has grain that runs right through the entire thickness, all in the same direction.  It sounds beautiful.  It is extremely vulnerable to splitting apart.

Realizing that I’m not simply talking about the construction of guitar tops, you do understand the principle I’m driving at, don’t you?  If we only align ourselves with people who agree with us entirely, who operate in the same way we do, and who look just like we do, the result may be a relationship which seems to be perfect.  In the long run though, such a relationship is weaker than the one in which the parties know that they are different, and perhaps even argue about how they operate, but agree to stick it out anyway.  The first type of alliance will split open with the slightest pressure, perhaps with a fatal result.  The second sort can weather the conflict, because they have agreed on the process and are made stronger by being different from each other.  Our differences make us stronger, not weaker.

Just a note about plywood, that laminate which has layers that are on the bias to each other…those layers are glued together snugly, without any perceptible distance between them.  An old carpenter told me once that you never want to buy cheap plywood, because it has what he calls “voids” in it.  Where there is separation in the plies, there is weakness.  Plywood works because the layers stick together tightly…on the bias.  They don’t all go the same direction; don’t all do the same thing.  Their combined strength is incredible.

People who use the martial arts are fond of giving exhibitions where they break boards (among other things).  The next time you have an opportunity to see one, watch to see how they do it.  They use solid boards, with grain which runs completely through the thickness of the wood, because they know that this weakens the board.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person even attempt to break a two-inch thick piece of plywood.  I’m not sure it can be done.

As with the piano moving operation, if we all move the same direction at the same time, mirroring each other’s actions, destruction will ensue.  But, when we embrace those who do things a little differently, who think not quite like we do, our strengths are multiplied (now there’s a word which demands a closer look at its root) and goals can be accomplished with seeming ease.

I hope you won’t be spreading ugly rumors about me being biased.  I’m also just as hopeful that we who are on the bias can get along.

There’s really no sense in working at cross-purposes with each other.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
(Sun-tzu~Chinese general~ca. 400 BC)

“There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”
(I Corinthians 12:6~KJV)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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