This classic western proverb is so simple (and true) that it is often ignored. There are, of course, many variants, notably Franklin’s “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure“. If there ever was a universal truth in this life of ours, that might be it.
But, then, Franklin was wiser than most. And, he was adept enough to see ten applications for every one principle, giving us our ounce of prevention in “an apple a day keeps the doctor away“, for instance.
When asked what the founders had given us, he replied “A Republic, if you can keep it.” To which, he might have added, “when in doubt, read the manual“. Uh, oh, Houston, we’ve got a problem.
Alas, we Americans are human, aren’t we? We tend not to read the manual until the car’s broken down on the side of the road, smoke coming out of everywhere but the tailpipe. Well, then we can be counted on to bring on the bailing wire and duct tape.
And, like most of us, I too can be a rather terrible procrastinator. Of course, I might have a perfectly good and rational explanation for how I prioritize my time, but even so, will often choose to pay the bigger price tomorrow over the prudent and tedious duty of today. My rationale is, often enough, yet another simple (zen) truth that, sometimes, doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing (or, worse still, the wrong thing).
And, it is true that it may take a little time to figure out a proper course of action, to assemble the required resources, to have enough time available to effectively complete the task. But, if that becomes the rule, rather than the exception, perhaps I should take that as a sign that my life is too complicated. And, maybe it is.
Of course, this is but one of the problems with Mission Creep, which I’ve had reason to speak to in the past. Sometimes it happens because we ignore those prudent and easy preparations, sometimes it happens simply because we can’t properly imagine the full trajectory of our lives…or the consequences of today’s (or yesterday’s) decisions.
In my last post, for instance, I touched on the issue of the 2nd Amendment and it’s implicit obligation of the “citizen soldier”. We naturally recoil from the terrible and terrifying implications of that concept, ignoring the underlying principle that the mere existence of the constitutionally prescribed militia (as referenced our nation’s “owner’s manual) would, like an ounce of prevention, utterly prevent the need for it’s use. (And, by the way, that’s true for gun ownership itself, more generally, as John Lott has found.)
A single ounce of prevention…..how might that concept have guided our nation over the years. Instead, we found ourselves taking every blessing of liberty for granted and still wanting so much more.
Had we taken those principles to heart, do you think we’d have this massive debt problem today? Would we have become so passive about getting permits for virtually every act under the sun (such as driving, working, homebuilding, etc.)? Do you think we’d blithely accept strip searches and interrogation as a condition of our travel? Do you think 9/11 would have even played out the same way?
Well, that’s all water under the bridge now. But, of course, we’ll pay on Tuesday. I’m now reminded of this more contemporary version: “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” (John Wooden) Maybe that’s where we find ourselves now. Maybe it’s Tuesday already.