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Just dropping by ... ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ solution to temperance

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairyman Published on 22 February 2019

Laundry piles high, dishes totter and spill on the counter, crumbs scatter like ants under the table, and the teal carpet lies cluttered and brown from the want of a vacuum while I sit frustrated, once again, that I let things get out of control. Oh, I have my bag of excuses.

I have been so busy finishing my book and trying to keep resolutions I made in January. Every time I turn around, someone needs something. Trip to the store, babysit, finish a project, visit Mom, make a phone call. I have a thousand e-mails to answer and 400 more notifications on Facebook and that many more on Pinterest. I gave up even looking at Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Yes, the excuses are stuffed in that bag like sardines in a can. I want to get things under control and keep them there, but the steamroller of life just catches up and rolls right over the top of me.

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I have been praying and asking, like the rich young man in the scriptures who came to the Savior and wanted to know, “What lack I yet?” I got the answer the other day. With my life the way it is, it is no wonder the Spirit whispered “temperance” to my wanting heart.

Temperance? I am not sure I know what that means or even how to get it. I wrote about it a couple of years ago, but that is where it ended. The dictionary says it has to do with controlling one’s behavior and abstaining from alcohol. I am not an alcohol drinker, but I certainly need some behavior modification – but where to start? Self-mastery is what I need. Not just the buzzword but a heavy dose, like medication to my soul.

Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare comes to mind:

‘The Tortoise and the Hare’

A hare jeered at a tortoise for the slowness of his pace. But he laughed and said that he would run against her and beat her any day she would name. “Come on,” said the hare, “you shall soon see what my feet are made of.”

So it was agreed that they should start at once. The tortoise went off jogging along, without a moment’s stopping, at his usual steady pace. The hare, treating the whole matter very lightly, said she would first take a little nap, and that she should soon overtake the tortoise. Meanwhile, the tortoise plodded on and the hare, oversleeping herself, arrived at the goal, only to see that the tortoise had got in before her.

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I am slow like the tortoise, but I travel in circles. I write down the goal, and I know I want to be there, but I get distracted. For some reason, I keep passing the same spot in the road without making much progress. Sometimes I think I am on higher ground but, when I look around, my surroundings look the same. I am still faced with the same disorganization problems.

Like the hare, I take a day to catch up. Like a whirlwind, I sweep the cobwebs, scour the sink, empty the molding jars from the refrigerator, vacuum and shampoo the carpets, and mop and wax the floor. My house looks like Mr. Clean had a field day, but then I go to sleep, so to speak, and everything drifts back to the status quo, and I am once more looking at my world, wondering, “Where did all this clutter and chaos come from?” I blame it on the gremlins, but I know in my heart it wasn’t them.

When I was in the middle of raising children, I blamed them, but now I recognize it was my fault. I didn’t give them the example they needed to keep the house organized.

“Inch by inch, it’s a cinch; yard by yard, it’s hard. Mile by mile, it’s a trial.” I don’t know who said that. It was probably a wise tortoise somewhere. It couldn’t have been a hare, for obvious reasons. This morning, I put on my tortoise thinking cap and came up with a few ways I can be more temperate in my life – taking the definition that temperance means “self-mastery” and not libation.

1. Play the hare, Mr. Clean, and bring the house up to spotless. Of course, if you don’t have time to do the entire house, clean one room at a time, finding a specific place for everything. My house needs to be a room-by-room project. I need to close my eyes and play the tortoise, unloading baggage, throwing or giving things away.

2. Every night, put on your hare tenney-runners and rush through the house, picking up every piece of clutter, and put it in place.

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3. Undress in front of the hamper instead of beside the bed. Dirty clothes go in the hamper. Clean clothes go on the hanger or in the drawer. Shoes go beside the hamper. That way, I don’t have to play the hare in the morning trying to find my shoes. It would be good to have a hamper or basket for each type of laundry. I like to wash my white clothes and colored clothes separate, not because I am racist but because I want to wash the white ones in hot water and the others in warm water, and I don’t take the chance of my husband’s underwear coming out pink because I washed them with my red sweatshirt. He doesn’t like that.

4. Empty the mailbag beside the trash can or a shredder instead of on the kitchen table. Ninety percent of the mail I bring home is not worth bringing through the door, but I ritualistically put it on the table, and there it sits until I can go through it two or three times trying to decide if I want to keep it or not. It is easy to sort by the trash can or shredder. If you don’t want the item, whoosh. It is gone forever. If there is a question whether to keep the item or not, take a picture of it or put it in a shoebox. Throw the rest away. How many catalogs, magazines and political ads do you need anyway? Some people perform that ritual at the post office. I don’t think that’s fair to the post office workers; after having sorted and boxed the mail in the first place, then having to carry it to the dumpster is a bit much to ask.

5. Play the tortoise and plod through your e-mail box. Methodically unsubscribe to e-mail companies you haven’t used in three months. If you want to contact them again, don’t worry – you will be able to find them on Google. At least you won’t be getting notifications every few minutes to let you know you have new mail.

6. Social media is a sleeping tree for many hares. Tortoises don’t spend much time there. They are too busy plodding along. Shut off the notifications on your social media so the ding of the phone doesn’t draw you back into the sleeping mode, where you can spend many unaccounted-for hours. If you must have social media, put it on your computer or a tablet you don’t carry with you. That way, social media is not convenient. If you must use your phone, set your timer to a specific time. When it dings, you are done.

7. Do the dishes after each meal. Just because you have one or two dishes doesn’t mean they have to sit on the counter. It is easier to wash dishes after a meal than to wait until the food is crusted on. Fill the sink with water and soap before the meal and put the dishes right in when you finish the meal. If you have a dishwasher, the dishes go into the dishwasher from the table.

I am beginning to learn temperance isn’t only an exercise in pushing yourself away from the table before you eat too much. It is a concept that is all-encompassing. It is gaining self-mastery over your entire world. The old saying, “cleanliness is next to godliness” has merit here. I can’t imagine Heaven being cluttered with disorganization. If we are to follow in the footsteps of the Savior and serve as He served, we must have enough power over our own environment to be able to say, “Here am I, send me.” end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.

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