A few weeks ago I was brainstorming for slightly out-of-the-box analogies to use in my part of a group presentation. It was an emotionally-charged topic that pointed toward prevention, and I wanted to find a way to take the emotion out of it and show how the logical answer also pointed toward prevention. As I was brainstorming, I recalled an experience I’d had less than a week earlier.
My car was long overdue for an oil change, so I took it in to get it serviced. Afterward, the mechanic came to me and told me that an important belt on my car looked like it needed to be replaced–it was getting weathered. He suggested I do it soon, as my car would be essentially useless should this belt break.
Being a thrifty, college-aged woman, I decided it would be wise to get a second opinion. I know nothing about belts and did not want to be swindled by this smooth-talking mechanic. Luckily, I was going home two days later and decided to have my dad look at it. When my dad looked at it, he couldn’t see anything wrong with it.
I was left with a difficult decision: To replace the belt, or not to replace the belt?
I thought about what might happen if I left it. If it broke, I could be stranded alone somewhere. I might find myself unable to get to my classes or my internship. If it broke while I was driving, it could potentially leave me in a very unsafe position on the road. Or I might get lucky and it might not break. No matter how you cut it, leaving the belt was a gamble, and I’d never be completely confident that my car was going to run as planned.
I thought about what would happen if I replaced it. It would be slightly inconvenient. And dishing out money for something that isn’t broken yet is always hard, especially when it’s potentially unnecessary. However, once the deed was done, I wouldn’t need to worry about the belt anymore. I would know that my belt was good and I could trust my car to get me where I need to go.
It was the perfect analogy for my part in the presentation. Much like the child welfare dilemma we were debating, in this situation neither option was very appealing, but one choice was definitely the most safe, and that was prevention. If you can see that something has the potential to be a problem, it’s always best to prevent the problem rather than repair the damage.
It is always interesting to consider the things I do in my life in the name of prevention. We used to have a mouse problem in my apartment, and thus I try to keep my kitchen counters and floors crumb-free in hopes of preventing the mice from coming back. I lock the doors of my car and apartment in order to prevent theft. I could omit either of these practices from my life and probably still be fine. Maybe the mice don’t care what my kitchen counters and floors look like. The city I live in has been dubbed one of the safest metropolitan areas in the United States–it is unlikely that I will ever have a problem with theft, regardless of whether or not I lock my car or apartment. And yet, it’s not a risk I want to take. In matters of mice or robbery, I am not willing to take a chance.
In my presentation I emphatically asserted that the obvious solution to the problem with my belt was prevention. There was no pain-free solution, but replacing the belt was always the safest solution. But for whatever reason, that belt is still there on my car–a potential ticking time bomb. I’m not sure how this belt is any less serious than an impending mouse invasion in my apartment or a greedy stranger extracting the stereo out of my car, but here I am–waiting. Waiting for it to become something real to fix. Waiting for it to become a problem I can actually see and wrap my head around.
We live in a very remedial society. If something isn’t broken, we don’t try to fix it. We wait for someone to overstep boundaries before we correct that person. We wait for illnesses to become serious before we begin to find the right remedy. We wait for a child to demonstrate obvious signs of abuse or neglect before contacting child protective services. We wait until we are overweight before we worry about eating healthy foods.
We spend a lot of time waiting for something that will set us in motion. We stand there just waiting for the next ugly problem to jump out and terrify us. We wait to be attacked by a problem before we attempt to fight it. There is a song by the band Switchfoot that asks a very valid question, “This is your life–are you who you want to be?” It’s a question I try to ask myself frequently. Do my actions make me the person I want to be? Do I keep my mind locked and clean in order to prevent unwanted guests? Do I ensure that the belts of my mind are always shiny and new or wait for the weathered belts to break? Do I define my problems and attack them, or do I wait for my problems to attack and define me? Am I making my life what I want it to be, or am I waiting for something else to happen?