One of my first jobs as a teen involved cleaning a small, seedy tavern, and once a week I manned the floor buffer to spiff up the dining room tile. I quickly discovered that it took both effort and skill to direct that headstrong machine: given its uncontrolled and powerful druthers, it would just as soon run me over on its way to doing its own thing than practically anything else.
Yet after a few weeks of forced togetherness, stepping on each other’s toes and intentions, Buffy and I gradually developed an understanding—and a highly polished Floor Show! Locked inside the closed tavern with an appreciative but imaginary audience, we opened our weekly engagement with an eloquent, grand sweep beneath the turning disco ball, its playful glints showcasing our lustrous act: appearing once again—if not by popular demand—by gruff demand of Ross the Boss.
We tangoed the length of the bar, we shimmied down the center of the dance hall, we dipped and swirled through the restrooms, and two-stepped past the wall of framed dollar bills. We jived over to the jukebox, lindy-hopped by the dartboard, and merengued around the air hockey table. I tell you: we outshone everyone else there!
That is, until the day we gracefully swept so far along in our reverie that we yanked Buffy’s power cord from the far outlet. (Pardon the impromptu intermission, folks, I’ll be right back…!) Without flicking my partner’s switch to OFF, I waltzed back to the other end of the room and, with an electrifying flourish, reinserted the cord.
Instantly, my mechanical partner dropped the act, whirled on her pads and solo-blasted a breakdance, her long handle crash-coptering into tabletops overly-laden with upside-down chairs. Our big finale that night was singularly spectacular: to the erratic beat of tumbling Formica tables and bouncing vinyl chairs, the crunching tinkle of cheap glassware, the colorfully bright stylings of ketchup and mustard, all topped with the sticky spray of my opened Mountain Dew, it literally brought the house down—and all in the three seconds it took me, astonishingly dumbfounded, to pull the plug on the whole show.
My engagement at the Moorestown Hotel ran just the one summer between high school and college, fortunately for all parties.
In Buffy’s shiny chrome dome, not only could I see my own reflection, but also an unsettling resemblance of my own uncontrolled desires. At the time, I could ignore that easily enough: there was glop to clean for cash. Besides, if I didn’t look, I couldn’t see.
But not seeing doesn’t mean not existing. Innate in all of us is an untamed wild streak, which, if left uncontrolled and unmanaged, can quite resemble the berserk ravages of Buffy the Tavern Slayer on Cleaning Day. And eventually, it becomes hard to ignore.
Screaming tantrums by babies are to be both tolerated and excused: they simply have no self-control. But woe to everyone in the vicinity of a man-child who has never tolerated delayed gratification in his life. Or rules meant for “other people.” Or a filter on his mouth, a check on his fist or a curb on his libido. He blows past the caution tape like a fleeing felon and blows up chances for productive relationships. It’s quite a nasty, immature performance that never ends well.
Yet there’s a little bit of that even in the best of us. Who hasn’t ever said too much, indulged too much, or cut in line (at least psychologically)? No doubt about it: self-control is a virtue more of us wish we had more of. But it isn’t something we’re born with, or can pick up at the corner convenience store like a grab-n-go burrito. (Not that we’d really want that…!)
Self-control can only be developed from a small seed. Implanted in a welcoming mind and heart, the tiny embryo packs all the potential for the delectable fruit of mature, healthy behaviors; but it must first be nurtured with fertile encouragement and pruned with patient discipline.
• It buds when we choose to believe in something larger than ourselves.
• It swells when we take small steps that lead to big goals.
• It strengthens when we exercise restraint and build character.
• It blossoms when we position the needs of others first.
• It matures when we produce selfless actions that change circumstances.
• It reproduces when we influence seed-planting in others.
My seedy adventures began when I noticed my wayward tendencies in a hard-to-control floor buffer. And while I’m still nurturing self-control, it all began with recognizing that need. Yours is similar: look within; see your need, plant your seed.