On the Corner


by Robert Docter –

Spring arrived with the vernal equinox a week or so ago in an orderly fashion—March 20, 2008, 5:58 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). It’s possible to figure out the exact date and time for each year. It’s always close to March 20, but it definitely varies depending on the number of days each year assigned to February by the Gregorian calendar and how many hours you are distant from Greenwich. If it gets past midnight, perhaps you add a day.

Yeah—a little complicated. I, personally, don’t feel it necessary to know the exact minute it happened. It’s not a rigid schedule, anyway. It’s not necessarily the same time and date every year, but it’s always close. It’s orderly.

I like order, but I’m definitely not all shook up with some disorder as long as it doesn’t get in the way of getting the job done. Some might describe the workspace on my desk as “cluttered,” but I see it as “loosely organized.” I’m confident I know where everything is.

In my classes I don’t mind a little conversation among the students, but I definitely have a point where it becomes too much—and that point becomes a boundary. It’s the dividing line between my organizational system—between my patience with business-like classroom noise and some other systems described with words from “rigid control” to “chaos.”

I see orderliness as the title to a continuum.



We are all located somewhere on this continuum in every aspect of our lives. I perceive neither end of the continuum to be completely satisfactory. I believe the place to be is somewhere in the middle. Spring came in an “orderly” fashion. The date and time of its arrival are predictable, but not consistent.

Easter also arrives in an orderly fashion. We determine the date of Easter by finding the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This year, Easter was about the earliest it’s been in over 100 years. It snuck up on a lot of people.

As noted above the vernal equinox may arrive either on March 20 or 21. A second factor concerns the lunar calendar and the date of the first full moon, and a third factor concerns when Sunday might arrive after the first two are accomplished—orderly, but not narrowly rigid.

If we go through life attempting to maintain control over every aspect of it—including our interpersonal relationships—by manufacturing extensive sets of rule and procedures through lists and schedules, we have fixated on a means to achieving some self-set goal while so immersed in never making a mistake and demanding perfection that we only move toward the goal in fits and starts—sometimes losing sight of it completely.

Life, for the rigid end of the continuum, becomes an excessive devotion to work. Every other aspect of life takes a back seat. The person becomes “stuck” in the morass of trivia and productivity. Often the quality of the product suffers in that the means to achieve it receive more attention than the quality of the product itself.

For this person, vacations are sacrificed. Friends receive little time. Rest and relaxation become something more like a “waste of time.”

Persons here have boundaries so narrow as to stifle life itself.

People at the other end of the continuum become the ultimate in non-productive, irresponsible undependability. They seem committed to disorderliness. They seem willing to dive into the river but never swim against the stream that some measure of disciplined behavior might require.

Sometime they communicate an orientation of entitlement to winning the “prize,” and, if denied tend to give up the quest for the goal.

Oftentimes people at this end of the continuum are highly self-centered. It’s “me first” for them. This pattern reveals itself in addiction, power needs, and desires to test death that approach a suicidal ideation. Low bottom alcoholics and addicts often present themselves as the ultimate in disorderliness. They seem to have adopted a point of view that causes them to isolate, eliminate social standards of decorum, cleanliness, honesty, and ambition. For many, it’s been no-growth for 25 to 35 years. They recognize the problem and are aware of its source. Nevertheless, the drug has had such a mind-changing hold on them they fail in most attempts at sobriety.

They are out of control—living without rules except those that will generate the next supply, becoming irresponsible and uncaring.

There are many kinds of addiction other than drugs. Some of these are perceived by the general society as positive, yet they demand a high measure of self-centeredness. One of them could be religiosity—a need to maintain a strong pattern of piety and religious practice. Church becomes so important that other matters are ignored. Some prescription drugs often are addictive. Excessive exercise can easily become addictive. Acquisitions through excessive purchases of unneeded goods is another addiction. Even food can be highly addictive.

Now, even with all this—we do need order in our lives. However, we do not need obsessive-compulsive behavior nor do we need self-centeredness in any form. Neither of these approaches allow us to show concern for our “neighbor” or genuinely worship God.

We have a tendency to slip toward the end of the continuum that we lean toward. The slip can increase as we grow older. We must avoid the poles—fringes—the extremes of orderliness—not too much and not

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