1) If anything can go wrong, it will
2) Nothing is ever as simple as it seems
3) Everything takes longer than you expect
4) If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something
5) Nature always sides with the hidden flaw
That’s quite a list of negatives. It’s also quite accurate for anybody who has lived long enough to know better. Murphy must have been a grumpy but realistic man. Some might call him a pessimist.
Which brings me to that pile of dust in my shop… particulate matter. I swear I swept. When I last worked, using a combination of dust collection filters, the floor was pristine. Hence I have no explanation, except that very fine dust seems to be pervasive. It just gets past you despite your best due diligence. Coming back the next morning, I invariably find when I sweep with a small broom, another spattering of residual dust has settled on the floor. It’s the same fine dust my wife complains she has to wipe from furniture surfaces the day after I work on something. Guilty I suppose. They warn about that. It’s why hepa filters exist. The small stuff will kill you.
It’s also instructive. It’s always the small stuff in life, unforseen consequences that come after all you did to avoid them. The little things overlooked can have dramatic and disastrous after-effects, like a Challenger space craft exploding on launch with the whole world watching, and seven people aboard. Somehow the fool-proof graphs and computer projections for what would happen pale somewhat against the starkness of what no optimist imagined up front.
It ain’t over until it’s over. And doing anything teaches you that nothing is over fast. The more complicated a thing is, the more it requires sifting, straining, checking, cleaning up, in order to rid it of that particulate matter, the stuff you end up dusting off the furniture the next day. It’s also the one question I ask my semi-adult children over and again. “Did you check? Did you make sure? Really sure?” They do not seem to see the point of my gravity.
It’s a math thing. The laws of probability dictate that even if you do ninety-nine things consciously right, it only takes one unconscious error to unravel it all. I got this lesson up close and personal from my grade ten math teacher. She told us all of life is checking off boxes. It’s the paper-shuffling and form-filling of life, and no one gets by it unscathed. In her case, a family friend crashed and died in an airplane owned by her husband, a hobby pilot. There is a checklist of things one must go over when embarking on a solo flight. You have to verify everything. “The list is boring but necessary. To neglect it, can have devastating consequences,” she said gravely, looking us all in the eyes and for once, enjoying our rapt attention. “All of life is math,” she insisted. “Do your math and you will be safe”.
I have seen Murphy’s law borne out in practise. There is tendency on the business side of graphic arts to imagine that you can crank up the pressure to go ever faster, and produce in more volume, with impunity. Every deadline met, even under great duress, encourages the notion that the next can be done faster, without consequences. It’s like telling someone to drive faster and faster, never anticipating an accident. Eventually the accident will happen. A wise person follows the maxim “go slower, in order to go faster.” It’s cheap insurance to build a bit of a buffer into everything you do, to check, clean up, and do maintenance.
It seems to be a no brainer when people ask if you would prefer to be a pessimist or an optimist. Nobody likes pessimists, but I bet they sleep better at night… including Mr. Murphy. Particulate matter. It’s the little stuff of life that will come back to haunt you. Embracing this reality from the front end, means you will sleep better at night too.