Last week as I was quickly mopping the kitchen floor before some visitors arrived, I began arguing in my head, as I often have, against the familiar maxim “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Many of us grew up with this saying. It was drummed into us by well-meaning and hard-working parents and grandparents trying to instill in us a strong work ethic and to help us take pride in our work. I honor and applaud the intent behind their advice. But for those who struggle against perfectionism, this is an adage from the dark side. It can invite paralysis and procrastination.
We sang one of my favorite patriotic songs in Church on Sunday, “America the Beautiful.” It has a charming history. It was written by Katherine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, when she was visiting Colorado College in 1893 to teach summer school. On her journey across the country, Bates witnessed first-hand vast “amber waves” of wheat covering the Great Plains. She also admired images of futuristic gleaming white cities in the Chicago World’s Fair. But above all she was stirred by a beautiful panoramic view of America atop Pike’s Peak. The thrilling experience of being surrounded by ”purple mountain majesties” with “fruited plains” stretching far into the distance below led Bates to write “America the Beautiful,” a poem originally entitled “Pike’s Peak.”
Social psychologists have discovered that individuals are less likely to help a victim when bystanders are present. In fact, if you are a victim, the more people around you the less likely it is that one of them will intervene. There is a diffusion of responsibility in a crowd. This is called “the bystander effect.” If you want to watch some disturbing videos, look up “bystander effect” on YouTube. The videos show actors playing victims moaning on the sidewalk in a big city and even crying out “help me” while people pass them by, sometimes for a very long time, with no one stopping to help.
I write today in praise of libraries, books, and reading. This is National Library Week. Its organizers have invited the public to “share your library story” on social media. My library story is bathed in the soft, gauzy glow of boyhood memories of the library of my youth.
Just a week ago, I awoke to the horrific news that 49 people had been killed in two mosques in Christchurch, NZ, with more in hospital. Since then, another has died. The victims were gunned down in cold blood as they gathered to pray, by a shooter filled with rage and hatred for Muslims and immigrants. I felt sickened by the news. I wept that morning as I prayed for the victims and for a world where, as prophesied, the love of many was waxing cold.