In the Doctor’s office today, I saw this sign in the examining room. I read it, thought a moment, then had to laugh. It isn’t a thermometer, it is a thermostat. A thermometer takes your temperature, a thermostat regulates the temperature in a space. I moved closer to see the sign and realized that someone had taken great care to make sure it would not fall off the wall, but not enough time to realize they were using the wrong word. And now that the sign is up – and probably in place in each examining room – has anyone told them they used the wrong word?
It is an interesting situation. Do you tell the person they took all the time to print the signs, cut them to size, tape them to the wall only to have used the wrong word? It made me think about the person who made the signs. Are they the finance person or someone in charge of paying the electric bill, hence they do not want the temperature changed? Are they the approachable type? Are they willing to hear feedback about this type of mistake? Or does the sign actually tell us enough about them to answer that question? They did not say ‘please do not adjust’, they simply said ‘do not’. They printed the words in all caps, which is very forceful. They made the sign black and white. They taped it to the unit covering any possibility that anyone would miss it. They had a plan and made it happen, and used the wrong word.
I had to admit as I stared at this sign – still waiting for the Doctor to arrive – that at times in my youth I was this person. Passionate and enthusiastic about getting things done, moving quickly and efficiently only to realize later that I made a mistake. Or never realizing that I made any mistake, and in my zeal I was foolishly creating an environment where my passion made it hard for me to hear someone else’s side of things. Enthusiasm is a powerful force for good, yet hard to handle when it goes a stray. It gets things done and yet makes facing mistakes a difficult conversation. Soon after this thought entered my mind, the Doctor arrived.
On the drive home I thought about the power of youth and enthusiasm, and the reality we face when both let us down. The advantage of age is we learn from our mistakes and gain wisdom. Wisdom gives us the courage to ask other people if they have any thoughts about our intended action before we act. Maturity allows us to face the fact that others may have another way to get the job done, and it isn’t all about us. And we gain maturity through experience. Experience is that voice in our head shouting at us not to send the email we wrote out of passion. Experience is the silent nudge that prevents us from speaking up in the team meeting when no one asked for our alternate opinion. Experience is the best teacher especially when we learn from someone else’s experience.
So next time your youth or enthusiasm get the better of you, take a deep breath. Ask someone else before you act. Turn down the thermostat to cool down the room, or take your temperature with a thermometer to make sure you do not have a fever. Do all this before you use the wrong word.