Brushing our teeth. Can there be a more banal personal chore? Each morning as I resign myself to squeezing the paste from the tube, the plot of Groundhog Day flashes in my mind. The same thing over and over and over again. Yet I think we can gain some important insight into living our lives from this hygenic exercise.
How well we develop, manage, and nuture the important things in our lives, whether it is keeping a marriage fresh and alive, household upkeep and repairs, or approaching our vocations, can look a lot like how we approach brushing our teeth. Let me explain my point. For years I had slowly fallen into the trap of bad technique and general laziness when it came to brushing. Given the hassle of this rote activity, ultimately most mornings I would ram the brush around the inside my mouth for 15 to 20 seconds to get this task over with so that I could start my day. However, the American Dental Association recommends that we brush our teeth carefully and with proper instruments for sessions lasting two minutes. Not only did I barely get the inside of my mouth wet, I would rarely change out my worn and matted down brush. My poor oral hygiene and my poor attitude eventually led to a number of problems that I have been battling with for the past year. Loose teeth, painful swelling and bleeding of my gums, plaque and tartar buildup, and bacteria and decay problems spreading below the gumline.
I had convinced myself that things were just fine because, as I noted to my dentist, I brush my teeth everyday. True enough, I was indeed regularly brushing my teeth, but I put in the absolute minimum effort. If I had kept up what I was doing, within a few years my teeth would have begun falling out of my mouth. My attitude had really clouded my thinking. I was brushing, so I was doing what was needed. But doesn't this sort of attitude paint a swath over so many areas of our lives? How many marriages limp along because the spouses put in the absolute minimum effort, all the while thinking they are doing their part? How many of us are setting ourselves up for a rude awakening by putting off necessary home upkeep and repairs, thinking that because we do some little things that we have the bases covered? How many of us have stopped giving our all at work because our attitudes have been completely fogged over by allowing mediocrity and poor effort to define our equilibrium?
Sometimes, all it takes to turn things around is to recognize how far we have fallen from what we used to expect from ourselves. Sometimes this is enough of a shock to our pride that we can then formulate a plan to make improvements. Sometimes we might even be compelled to try and use the floss, ..., sometimes.