Saturday, March 23, 2013


The speaker stepped up to the podium but didn't say a word.  I was getting a little nervous for him. Was there a problem? Why was he just looking out over the audience?
SUDDENLY, he held up a large white poster board, and shouted “What do you see”? We all sort of jumped in our seats. All we saw was the white board with one small dot on it, smack dab in the center. 


After recovering from the initial surprise, one of the ladies in the audience tentatively ventured an answer… “A small black speck?” she offered. 

Then he really came back loud and strong. “SEE WHAT I MEAN? This board is all white but there is ONE, TEENEY WEENIE black spot on it and THAT’s what you see.   Notice that you didn’t say a large white poster with a teeny dot.  That's the problem with being a janitor!  People only see the tiny flaws, not the big picture”!

Then his shoulders dropped and he gave us a wide smile. The tension broken, we all relaxed. 

This was a Toastmasters meeting and we were all here to improve our public speaking skills, to learn to improvise, to structure and deliver different kinds of speeches and presentations. 

Bill owned a fairly large janitorial service in the Los Angeles area and he showed his frustration in that speech, apparently an ongoing problem in the cleaning service business, that no matter how much effort you spend or how clean you get a building or offices, there is always SOMEONE that sees a small imperfection or spot. 

Bill made his point very clearly as he discussed how so many times there is a lack of appreciation for the efforts expended and too many unrealistic expectations of what people should get for their money. 

I loved that speech. It’s funny how some things stick with you to use as examples in life. I have thought about it many times since, the mark of a good, impressive message. It has made me think how often we are “Picky-Picky” over the smallest things.   By way of definition, Picky-Picky is a fictional cat in the Ramona series of children’s’ books by Beverly Cleary.  Picky-Picky is the Quimbys' old grumpy cat and his name comes from his finicky attitude towards his cat food. Having three cats, we know all too well the signs of “Picky-Picky”. 

We have all probably experienced that situation where despite our best efforts someone just isn't satisfied. Whether in our family situation or at work, in a sporting event, at church or in a public meeting. Way too many times in marriages, or personal relationships, impatience or intolerance raise tempers and cause hurt feelings, or worse.

As a parent, I have been guilty of holding too high a standard, many times an inflexible (some would say “bull headed”) expectation of what my beloved children should be doing, saying, wearing, thinking, and acting… the whole gamut. In some instances I have “missed the ball” and some wonderful moments to see surprising creativity, to appreciate the unexpected, to experience the beauty of “outside the box” thinking by my children, due to my own adherence to a previously outlined course of behavior or action. 

Now, as I mentioned, I have seen the other side of Picky-Picky too!!   And, as my friend Bill of the janitorial service learned, it hits closer to home when we are the object of the exacting scrutiny, the meticulous appraisal of our best efforts and persnickety criticism of our performance. (Think, "Boy, he can dish it out but he can’t take it"!!!) 
 As the object of criticism we can learn even greater lessons. I’m sure most of us have been on the receiving end and realize just how hurtful and unjust it often seems. 

On one occasion I had been elected to serve as the leader of Sunday services in our local church. This was an important position and having been elected by the membership to serve that three-year term, I worked very hard to prepare. I was pretty nervous and wanted to do a good job.

In preparation I selected appropriate scripture readings, selected hymns, rehearsed, and even took a series of Reading Aloud lessons from a professional instructor. Although we were relatively young, didn’t have a lot of money and were raising four children, I invested in a new suit, several beautiful blue shirts, an expensive tie, new shoes, even got a haircut!! 

At the first Sunday morning service, my “debut”, I was really excited. Everything went off without a hitch. I was so delighted… until… a lady came up to me afterwards in the vestibule and said, “You really should have worn a white shirt. Readers ALWAYS wear white shirts”.     Psssssssss. That sound was the air going out of my balloon!! After all of the work, the hours, the prayer, the study, the attention to detail… my shirt turned out to be the problem!! 

At that moment… I KNEW Picky Picky!!!

I got to the car, sat there for a minute with wife and 4 kids on board, and I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed and couldn’t stop. I had run head long into Picky-Picky.   You know, I just loved that dear lady. I loved that she was so concerned that everything be just right. I loved that she wanted me to be the best. I loved that I could see the love that she was expressing, even though it seemed like a hammer to my head.

You may have read this interpretation of Jesus’ counsel about criticizing others as given in Matthew 7 where he described the “mote and the beam”. This translation is from The Message translation by Biblical scholar Professor Eugene Peterson:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. … It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt?... …Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” 

The lessons I have learned from the grumpy cat, Picky-Picky are… Do be meticulous. Do strive for perfection. Do be fastidious, painstaking, and fussy. But not when it gets in the way of love, understanding, openness, sincerity, receptivity to new ideas. 

Because… Love is the basis of life and is it more important than anything else in the world.   (
And blue shirts aren’t really all that bad!!!!)


Melissa Hayden said...

Thanks Pat! Happy to know that the Golden Rule can be a wonderful guideline for showering those around us with the affection and approval we long for.

JayArty said...

Meticulous, painstaking and fussy are criteria we should (maybe) apply to ourselves, not others, least of all to those we love.

Patrick Collins said...

AMEN Brother!! We can strive to achieve these things in our own experience as long as it doesn't adversely affect our relationships with our families, friends or others. Then we wont be seen as ...Picky Picky!!!

Karen Molenaar Terrell said...

What a great post, Pat!
And amen!

Patrick Collins said...

Thanks Karen!! So glad you liked it!! I LOVE your top hat!!!!

Barry Chambers said...

Very insightful,Pat. I thought of several instances in my own life when I was either the recipient or the perpetrator of "Picky, Picky".

Parenting (and life) seems to be a search for that elusive balance. Hopefully, we attain it more often than we miss the mark.

Patrick Collins said...

Thanks Barry. You are to me a role model of calm and patience. Thanks for being a good friend!