The importance of the little things

 

Europe is obviously a very technologically advanced part of the world, in general.  But there are some aspects of the modern, high-tech world that have proven difficult for Europeans to master.  I speak, of course, of indoor plumbing.  Even in the fancy hotels I stayed in in the South of France, the bathrooms tended to be comically small and extremely impractical.  “Hey!  We can save even more space by putting the toilet in the shower!  Genius!”  I looked forward to getting back to American bathrooms.

So I land in the States, get my bags, hop in my car and start driving home.  I stop at a gas station in rural North Carolina, and I go to use the restroom.  It was large and spacious, and well laid out.  But it reeked of stale urine, my feet stuck to the floor, and the hand dryer was so remarkable that I simply had to take a picture of it – see below.

The French bathrooms were cramped and inefficient, but they were clean.  This gas station was spacious and efficient but was being maintained by someone who clearly took no pride in their work and had no self-respect.  Now, I know there is a significant difference between the proprietor of a luxury hotel in wine country and the proprietor of a cheap gas station in a poverty-stricken area.  But my goodness.  Is it really that hard to mop a floor and replace a broken hand dryer?

No.  Those are basic skills.

Sometimes poor people are poor because something outside their control went wrong.

Other times people are poor because of the way they do things.

My father was an exceptional hog farmer.  But even he could not fight the tide of farm crashes in the 70s and 80s.  We ended up losing everything.

But we continued to work hard, just at other things.  And we didn’t stay poor for long.  Now my Dad lives on a sailboat in the summers, and in Hilton Head in the winters.  His kids have both done very well.  So the loss of our farm was a temporary setback, but we worked through it ok.

Whoever is in charge of that gas station is never going to excel.  At anything.  And that will be his (or her) fault.

Photo by PopTika (Shutterstock)

Teach your children to excel.  At whatever it is they’re doing.  It doesn’t matter what they’re working on at the time.  Work hard at it, and keep at it until it is outstanding.  Pretty good is never good enough.  Simple.

Sometimes my kids would wonder why I pushed them so hard on stupid school projects that don’t matter.  It’s true, of course – they don’t matter.  But developing an intolerance for mediocrity – it’s surprising how much that matters. For the kid, and society at large.

Because it’s not that hard to mop a floor and to do it well.  Even if it seems like it doesn’t matter.

But it matters. For the gas station proprietor, and society at large.

The little things are important.  Even more important than the big things, sometimes…

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    And just maybe, that’s not the best wall color for right there.

    • #1
  2. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Arahant (View Comment):

    And just maybe, that’s not the best wall color for right there.

    It would be.  With a little soap and water.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Public restrooms can go bad in a hurry.

    The price of clean facilities is the same as the price of freedom – eternal vigilance.

    • #3
  4. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    With all the other merch, food and gasoline stuff going on, I think the selling point of Buc-ees is the pristine bathrooms. When you see that, you know they probably do everything well.

    • #4
  5. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    The little things are important. The men in our Mission recovery program are to make their beds every morning. When you notice a man slipping up on that, it’s often the case he will soon be slipping up on big things, and back out in the streets.

    • #5
  6. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    With all the other merch, food and gasoline stuff going on, I think the selling point of Buc-ees is the pristine bathrooms. When you see that, you know they probably do everything well.

    Great example

    • #6
  7. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    With all the other merch, food and gasoline stuff going on, I think the selling point of Buc-ees is the pristine bathrooms. When you see that, you know they probably do everything well.

    Great example

    As is Sheetz – stop there PA going/coming to NC. Everything works and is clean and tidy. And they are under Fed investigation for being bad hiring guys. They don’t hire former felons it seems. 

    • #7
  8. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Dr. Bastiat: “Hey!  We can save even more space by putting the toilet in the shower!  Genius!

    An RV wet bath! In a hotel room, no thanks. 

    Dr. Bastiat: But sometimes people are poor because of they way they do things.

    My husband and I have this discussion all the time. Does it really take that much effort to pick up around your house and cut the grass? But they are the first to tell you they play the lottery all the time. “Can’t win if you don’t play.” Same mentality. Always wanting the easy way out. Never wanting to put in just a little bit of work.  

    • #8
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) 🏴 Suspended
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Great post.

    I can understand why it would be difficult to take pride in one’s work, if that work was cleaning a bathroom.  These folks needed to watch Kung Fu, meaning the series with David Carradine.  I still remember the scene with the fellow who he erroneously believed to be his brother Daniel, as Kwai Chang was shoveling pig . . . well, Doc, with your family background, you know what he was shoveling.  :)

    I was able to find the dialogue online:

    Daniel:  You’re a strange man, Kwai Chang.

    Kwai Chang:  Yes?

    Daniel:  You don’t even know me . . . and yet you don’t mind doing a dirty job like . . .

    Kwai Chang:  It is honorable work, Daniel, to be a farmer.

    Daniel:  Even a pigsty?

    Kwai Chang:  Even a pigsty.

    I remembered this, just about word-for-word, from almost 40 years ago.

    That was long before my conversion, but it’s Scriptural.  “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through him.”  Colossians 3:17.

    • #9
  10. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Blondie (View Comment):
    Does it really take that much effort to pick up around your house and cut the grass?

    At my age?  Yes . . .

    But seriously, you reminded me I need to mow today.  Thanks!

    • #10
  11. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Stad (View Comment):

    Blondie (View Comment):
    Does it really take that much effort to pick up around your house and cut the grass?

    At my age? Yes . . .

    But seriously, you reminded me I need to mow today. Thanks!

    Glad to be of service!

    • #11
  12. GlennAmurgis Coolidge
    GlennAmurgis
    @GlennAmurgis

    Japan is one country that exceeds the US in this area

    • #12
  13. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    I started this comment on your, per usual, excellent post, Doc, but I fat-fingered the wrong combo of keys and deleted everything I had written. I had to walk away. A very long time ago when I was in my early twenties an opportunity arose due to my Brother-in-Law being enlisted in the army and stationed as a Lt Col Doctor in Furth, Germany. I was able to purchase a round trip from NY to Frankfurt as a “dependent/relative” of active duty army for only $75. I had $300 saved and hopped on the flight. The adventure led to me roaming Europe, Scandinavia, and Northern Africa for about 15 months. At one point I found myself broke in Amsterdam. Eventually, I ended up with a job for 85 cents per hour cleaning the rooms and bathrooms of the student hostel where I was staying. This was not the career a young middle-class American imagined in his dreams, but I was broke and needed a place to sleep, winter was near. I can assure you that those bathrooms were never so clean. The fixtures shined brightly when I had finished. The coincidence here is that I eventually took over and ran my family’s plumbing supply business for 40 years. I had many employees of varying degrees of competence and pay. However, I would tell every one, no matter what your job, be the very best at it. “Make the faucets shine.” Not only does that attitude make you noticed by those whose approval can lead to your own success, but it leads to your own self-approval and satisfaction, which is just as important. I will use the phrase, “A brother from another mother” because what you have posted, Doc, is the way I tried to live. I wasn’t always successful, but the successes I have had have come when I did my best even when the reward seemed minimal.

     

    • #13
  14. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    cdor (View Comment):
    I will use the phrase, “A brother from another mother” because what you have posted, Doc, is the way I tried to live. I wasn’t always successful, but the successes I have had have come when I did my best even when the reward seemed minimal.

    Thomas Sowell compared Irish culture to English culture (I think in Black Rednecks and White Liberals, if I remember correctly).  He said farms in Pennsylvania, run by Englishmen, were neat and well-maintained.  Farms in the southern Appalachians, run by Irishmen, tended to be sloppy and disorganized. 

    And I would point out that English culture has been a shining example of excellence around the world.  While Irish culture, um, is not.  Are the genetics of Irishmen and Englishmen really that different?  Surely not.  Culture matters.

    Full disclosure:  I’m 1/4 Irish.

    When I said that intolerance of mediocrity was important to the kid but also to society at large, this is what I was talking about.  This is vital to culture and the success of society.  But it is instilled at home, by the parents.

    Apparently, cdor, our mother agreed.

    • #14
  15. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    cdor (View Comment):
    I ended up with a job for 85 cents per hour cleaning the rooms and bathrooms of the student hostel where I was staying. This was not the career a young middle-class American imagined in his dreams, but I was broke and needed a place to sleep, winter was near. I can assure you that those bathrooms were never so clean. The fixtures shined brightly when I had finished.

    I was on a motorcycle trip to Alaska in my 20’s, and stopped at a truck stop on the Alaskan Highway in the Yukon, and asked the mechanic in the repair shop (who also turned out to be the owner) if I could help him for a few days to make a few bucks for my trip.  He said sure.  I helped with brake jobs and suspension work (the Alcan was horrible).  Simple stuff.  

    Then, one day, he had to go pick up some parts.  He said, “I’ll be gone for an hour or two.  See you soon.”

    I said, “I’ll just clean up your shop while you’re gone.”

    He responded, “Ok, fine.”

    He ended up being gone for most of the day.  By the time he got back, I had cleaned everything, organized his tools, taken out loads of broken crap from previous jobs, organized his stock of parts (finding the very part that he had left to go buy), and his shop had gone from a disaster area to a clean, pleasant place to work.

    He just stood there, looking around, stunned.  He was still looking at his freshly organized shelves when he said, “Stay on.  I’ll pay you.  I’m getting old.  You can pick this up when I’m done.  You could do real well here.  Make some real money.”

    I didn’t mention that I was in medical school, but I politely declined.  I worked for a few more days, he paid me well, in cash.  He just seemed astonished that a bum on a motorcycle who was broke and just wandering around – that he actually gave a crap.  About anything.

    Talent matters.  But there are certain personality traits that tend to lead to success.

    And even a diesel mechanic in Yukon recognized immediately what those traits are.

    • #15
  16. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    A lot of brains goes a long way in polishing off a good upbringing.

    • #16
  17. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    At one time gasoline retailers advertised clean restrooms as a selling point. 

    • #17
  18. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    This post is becoming a big reason why I continue to pay for this site. 

    • #18
  19. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Dr. Bastiat:

    Because it’s not that hard to mop a floor and to do it well.  Even if it seems like it doesn’t matter.

    But it matters. For the gas station proprietor, and society at large.

    Yes. It’s an important idea best conveyed when the kids are young: there’s dignity in the competent execution of one’s work that is independent of the perceived status of the work itself.

    I’ve found that a good opportunity to illustrate it is right after the kids have discovered that the guy at the drive-through omitted a sandwich, fries, whatever. At that moment the value of doing a simple job well is no longer an abstraction, but real and visceral. (Such opportunities arise surprisingly often.)

    • #19
  20. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    At that moment the value of doing a simple job well is no longer an abstraction, but real and visceral. (Such opportunities arise surprisingly often.)

    My point exactly

    • #20
  21. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Blondie (View Comment):

    This post is becoming a big reason why I continue to pay for this site.

    And this is really simple stuff. 

    The little things are often more important than the big things. 

    I don’t understand Kant.  But I understand this sort of thing.  And that’s enough, I think.

    • #21
  22. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    At one time gasoline retailers advertised clean restrooms as a selling point.

    Ever been to a Quiktrip? They have upgraded all of their bathrooms. They may not have the fashion of a high-end boutique hotel., But they are extremely clean and have the most current functionality built-in.

    • #22
  23. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Dr. Bastiat: “Hey!  We can save even more space by putting the toilet in the shower!  Genius!”  I looked forward to getting back to American bathrooms.

    Me, too, but be careful what you ask for.  We stayed at an AirBnB apartment in a Strasbourg suburb for a week last fall.  It grew on us.  It was relatively inexpensive, decorated artfully, in a friendly neighborhood on the Rhine-Rhone canal and bike path, and about a ten minute walk from the metro.  One of my best memories of the month in Europe was standing in our 6th floor balcony and watching the bicycle commuters riding into the city center in the morning and back home in the evening.  It was like a scene from a French Impressionist YouTube video, with the light from the street lamps reflecting off the canal, and the silent glow of bicycle headlights in the morning and taillights in the evening.  (I spent some time on that path, too, but not when there were so many commuters on it.)

    But the toilet was weird.  The toilet bowl was all there was in the room.  There was a washbasin and mirror in the hallway outside the toilet room, and there was a separate room with tub, shower, and washbasin.  I would have preferred those rooms to be combined, like at home.  You flushed the toilet, one of those “shelf” toilets you see some places in Europe, and which other Europeans laugh at, by turning on a spigot which you would let run until the thing was washed out to your satisfaction.  The host’s husband (who came over to help us get settled because he spoke more English than his wife) urged patience, and that seemed to work.

    • #23
  24. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    One of my best memories of the month in Europe was standing in our 6th floor balcony and watching the bicycle commuters

    I used to enjoy watching people ride bicycles, too.  When I used to work ER.  I saw dollar signs.

    But hey, I was young.  I feel kinda bad about that now… 

    • #24
  25. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    One of my best memories of the month in Europe was standing in our 6th floor balcony and watching the bicycle commuters

    I used to enjoy watching people ride bicycles, too. When I used to work ER. I saw dollar signs.

    But hey, I was young. I feel kinda bad about that now…

    Hey, nobody is perfect! For example, I probably would not have admitted that.

    • #25
  26. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: “Hey! We can save even more space by putting the toilet in the shower! Genius!” I looked forward to getting back to American bathrooms.

    Me, too, but be careful what you ask for. We stayed at an AirBnB apartment in a Strasbourg suburb for a week last fall. It grew on us. It was relatively inexpensive, decorated artfully, in a friendly neighborhood on the Rhine-Rhone canal and bike path, and about a ten minute walk from the metro. One of my best memories of the month in Europe was standing in our 6th floor balcony and watching the bicycle commuters riding into the city center in the morning and back home in the evening. It was like a scene from a French Impressionist YouTube video, with the light from the street lamps reflecting off the canal, and the silent glow of bicycle headlights in the morning and taillights in the evening. (I spent some time on that path, too, but not when there were so many commuters on it.)

    But the toilet was weird. The toilet bowl was all there was in the room. There was a washbasin and mirror in the hallway outside the toilet room, and there was a separate room with tub, shower, and washbasin. I would have preferred those rooms to be combined, like at home. You flushed the toilet, one of those “shelf” toilets you see some places in Europe, and which other Europeans laugh at, by turning on a spigot which you would let run until the thing was washed out to your satisfaction. The host’s husband (who came over to help us get settled because he spoke more English than his wife) urged patience, and that seemed to work.

    I was in the business. A  private toilet “room” is very common today. 

    • #26
  27. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    One of my best memories of the month in Europe was standing in our 6th floor balcony and watching the bicycle commuters

    I used to enjoy watching people ride bicycles, too. When I used to work ER. I saw dollar signs.

    But hey, I was young. I feel kinda bad about that now…

    Do you still ride your motorbike? 

    • #27
  28. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    cdor (View Comment):
    I was in the business. A  private toilet “room” is very common today. 

    Interesting.  Is it usually done to the exclusion of a toilet in the room with the shower?  

    • #28
  29. Steve Fast Member
    Steve Fast
    @SteveFast

    Percival (View Comment):

    Public restrooms can go bad in a hurry.

    The price of clean facilities is the same as the price of freedom – eternal vigilance.

    And for the same reason – you have to clean the feces out in both.

    • #29
  30. Steve Fast Member
    Steve Fast
    @SteveFast

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    But the toilet was weird.  The toilet bowl was all there was in the room.  There was a washbasin and mirror in the hallway outside the toilet room, and there was a separate room with tub, shower, and washbasin.  I would have preferred those rooms to be combined, like at home. 

    The advantage of a toilet and sink/shower in separate rooms is two-fold. First, it confines the nasty business to one room, while you clean yourself in another room. Second, someone can use the toilet while someone else washes up or showers. When I lived in Kazakstan, most bathrooms were like this, although generally the toilet room also had a sink.

    • #30
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