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Pride of Workmanship

I recently had occasion to witness a couple of examples of shoddy workmanship. In both cases, it was not tradesmen who did not have the experience or knowledge to do their work, but seemingly a carelessness or lack of pride in their work.
I recently had occasion to witness a couple of examples of shoddy workmanship. In both cases, it was not tradesmen who did not have the experience or knowledge to do their work, but seemingly a carelessness or lack of pride in their work. Perhaps they were cutting corners to save time and hopefully make a better return on their contract, but if that was the case, it did not turn out that way because they had to return and complete the work to my (the Customer) satisfaction.

I hope this is not another indication that we are becoming a generation of “good enough” practitioners. Good Enough soon deteriorates to It Doesn’t Matter attitudes, and that will spell trouble for all of us. If it doesn’t matter, why bother doing it all?

Perhaps the workman who cut the corners slightly off angle on the woodwork, tried to hide his error with plastic wood and left the sawdust on the floor, thought that his carelessness was of no consequence in the great order of things. And he may be right, except that he now carries a label that he may find hard to shake. Would I hire him again? Would I recommend him? In fact, as a dissatisfied customer, I may go so far as to spread his reputation of carelessness.

I wonder if we would have been treated to the beautiful ancient buildings, columns and statues seen during the Olympic Games if the Greek workers of past ages had no pride in their workmanship. If my carpenter had been in charge of chiselling the angles on the Parthenon, would it still be standing? I can picture him trying to patch a column with plaster of Paris to hide a mistake.

Of course this lack of quality control is not limited to individuals. As the economy becomes more global and more competitive, companies slide towards ‘good enough’ for the price they charge. Cheaper goods often carry lower expectations of satisfaction, but when a brand name you trusted and liked falls sudden prey to the production of shoddy goods, it leaves a bitter taste in my pocketbook. Or a pain in my nether areas.

For years I have been buying Fruit of The Loom men’s underwear. The shorts were comfortable, didn’t lose their colour during laundering and did not shrink. It did not matter where I bought my FTL underwear, the quality was assured. Last month I bought a package of said shorts at Wally Mart. After the first washing they have lost colour and shrunk! The label says the cotton fibres came from the US and were fabricated in Honduras. Maybe the product was ‘good enough’ for Wally Mart, but it is not for me.

It is one thing for something as seemingly unimportant as underwear, to degrade to ‘good enough’ but what about large ticket items like appliances, cars and even houses? For twenty years I had a garage door that never seemed to work just right. When the motor mechanism died last month and I replaced the unit, I realized the attachments had been improperly installed when the house was built! But the door opened, if with noisy protestations and it I guess that was good enough.

Did the workers back in 450 BC have more pride in their work than we do now? Maybe when they built their houses they cut corners that they would never think of doing when working on a temple. Shoddily painted urns and vases may have been for sale but it seems the artifacts we find are of a quality that we might find hard to replicate now on a production line that has to meet Wally Mart’s price controls.

Perhaps that is the problem now. Mass production takes away from any individual’s efforts at personal quality assurance. Inspector No. 3 may have passed those Fruit of The Loom undies, but they didn’t pass muster at my home. Unlike the Marble Chisel Technician who had the Parthenon architect Iktinos looking over his shoulder, the machine operator in Honduras will never see me.

All is not lost though as we hear of transit drivers who go out of their way to help people, healthcare workers who make trying times more comfortable and clerks who really care about your service. When I see the caring work Tom does with the flowers at the golf course I am comforted. When I see Marta cleaning the floor at the hospital with as much care as the surgeon wielding his scalpel, I feel a whole lot better. When Brian is maintaining my motorcycle and treats it as if he is going to ride it, I feel really, really good.

When the workers who installed my new windows bring their own vacuum cleaner and leave the house cleaner than it was when they arrived, I know they have pride in what they are doing. When the young fellows delivering a new bed carefully take off their shoes, pick up all the packaging and even know how to put the skirt on the box spring, I appreciate it. Maybe they are students doing a summer job and will never carry another mattress once they graduate, but someday, somewhere, sometime, they are going to meet a former customer and it will be to their advantage.

People who care about their work are not just anonymous faces in a crowd. They are recognized, but sometimes not publicly acknowledged by their peers. And they are appreciated by the rest of us because they are the ones who keep us from falling into chaos by the ‘good-enoughs’.

No matter what we do, we ought to have a pride of workmanship or ownership. Our abilities are not all the same, but if we are to make any progress in improving our time on the planet, we each have to try to do our best.

If what you are doing doesn’t matter, then perhaps you should be doing something else.


Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

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