The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


Mrs. Bounds was my fourth grade teacher.  I liked her a lot.  She was warm and friendly and so it was easy for me to overlook her small speech defect.

While we children would say “about”, Mrs. Bounds pronounced the word, “aboot.”  I mentioned this to my parents the third or fourth time I heard her say it.  I wanted to know what the correct pronunciation of a-b-o-u-t was.  When I explained how Mrs. Bounds said the word, dad said, “Oh, she’s probably from Canada.”  She was.

Well, I never did find out whether Mrs. Bounds was a big hockey fan or whether she liked catsup.  It was many years before a college friend from northern Minnesota informed me that hockey was the Canadian national pastime and catsup was the national food.  But I did learn a lot from her in the year she taught me.

I remember all of us took a math test which she administered.  I scored a perfect 100.  (We had moved past the third grade stage of having various colored stars pasted on our work and were now having to deal with looking at pure raw numbers).  It was such a young age to be confronted with reality.

When Mrs. Bounds returned my test to me she had a broad smile on her face.  She handed me my test with the big 100 marked on it, put her left hand on mine (now probably the basis for a child molestation suit) and said, “Well, you certainly did yourself proud with this test.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but I was reasonably certain it was a good thing – a compliment.  And I remember walking around the rest of the day with a smile on my face.  It felt good to have “done myself proud.”

In a much earlier post I told the story of my mother accompanying dad on one of his buying trips to the Orient.  They always stayed in a particular “native inn” (which is to say that the sleeping accommodations were futons) and how mom always remarked about the cleanliness of the place saying, “You could literally eat off the floor, the property was so well-maintained.”

One day while staying at this hotel in Nagoya, mom came home early and interrupted the maid who was going about the job of cleaning the room.  Mom was relatively proficient in Japanese and engaged the woman in a conversation, complimenting her on the outstanding job she did.

The woman, in Japanese fashion, was a bit abashed at this praise.  But my mother went on to say, “You know, with your diligence, I would think there are a lot of companies that would hire you – and probably at higher wages.”  (A typical western response – although I know my mother meant it as a compliment).

The maid said that she was working as an apprentice watchmaker for the Seiko company at night and that in six months’ time would be offered a position there at three times her present salary.

My mother said, “Well, I’m sure you are looking forward to that.”

The maid responded.  “Oh, yes.  But in the mean time I will be the best cleaning lady that I can be.”

That Japanese cleaning lady, “did herself proud.”

My parents in both their businesses were never satisfied with less than excellence.  While mom’s was a one person operation, dad expected excellence from all his employees.  He did not merely preach that at them – he demonstrated it to them in his personal conduct.  Excellence is not an accident – it is a standard – or at least that’s what my parents thought.

Having been raised by people such as they, I naturally tried to meet the high standards that they considered normal.  And, naturally, I expected to find that same desire to be the best you could be in others.  What a disappointment.  Customer service wasn’t bad in the 60’s but it’s been on a hyperbolic decline since then.  If this isn’t it’s nadir, I’m almost afraid to think what’s in store for us consumers.

I walked into my neighborhood Smith Food and Drug store (a Kroger division) about a month ago.  All of the employees were wearing t-shirts with bright yellow lettering on them.  The message on the t-shirts read:


If I happened to wear dentures (I don’t) I can assure you that they would have been on the floor of the store, clacking away in the same manner that we used to see in the early cartoons.

I simply couldn’t believe this message which to me translated as “Okay, we messed up the first time and now we’re going to try to rectify our error.”  If there is another interpretation of that message, I have been unable to figure it out.

And I thought to myself, “Let’s see.  Someone here goofed up something (I wasn’t sure exactly what the antecedent of ‘IT” was), and will try to undo her or his previous mistake.  But if that person made a mistake in the first place, why should I have the confidence that he will be able to fix it the second time around?  I mean, after all, if he didn’t realize that it was wrong to start with, what Divine insight has he since acquired to see the original error?  Or if the mistake merely occurred because he executed his job in a sloppy manner – why should I expect him to be any less sloppy now in trying to fix it?”

If I worked in Kroger’s PR Department, I would issue an immediate recall of these t-shirts and replace them with ones that say:


Even if that statement is an outright lie, who cares?  Anyone who has ever seen a political spot on TV knows that there is no truth in advertising.

Being raised by my parents had both its high and low points.  Mostly they were the former.  But I know that there were times when I struggled with a particular subject, I wished that they would have been satisfied with an 80 instead of the expected 100.  I knew that wasn’t the case – so I just had to try a little harder and work a little longer – partly to avoid the shame of disappointing them – but mostly out of the fear of losing my own self-respect.

I know that mom and dad always tried to conduct their affairs in a top drawer manner – and with the response they received from their customers, they must have been pretty successful at it.

I guess it would be fair to say, they “did themselves proud.”

Comments on: "PRIDE" (12)

  1. Yup, except around home it was: “We do it right THE FIRST TIME!” and besides we don’t have time to do it over.

  2. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  3. Excellent story. When good enough becomes the standard, there are no standards.

  4. As an aside, I could never understand how pride fit in as both a deadly sin and as a goal for living well while striving to be the best one can be.

    • When the “Seven Deadly Sins” were revised and compiled by Pope Gregory I, they were all, perhaps for reasons of simplicity, given one word titles. I think the answer to your question would be explained if the seventh of these, “Pride” were renamed, “False Pride” or in our modern terminology, “Ego.”

  5. It’s surprising how a slight change in a sentence can act as a positive motivational tool. I like your philosophy in life.

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