The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


In praise of work-arounds

A long, long time ago, when basketball seemed paramount in my life, I injured a finger by persistently catching passes incorrectly. "Soft hands" weren't my gift. Now I can't use that finger for touch-typing.

I developed a work-around: a speedy system of modified hunt-and-peck typing, which enables me to churn out several thousand words a day on a computer keyboard but does, I admit, leave me looking a bit old school when I work in public alongside touch typists.

Oh well. Output matters more than method, even if it involves a work-around.

Let's hear it for work-arounds, for our determination to work, play, do, function, learn and give — even when something about us is flawed. Maybe we can fix the flaw, but maybe we can't. Maybe our eyesight, physical limitations or mental faculties are such that we can't do all things.

Work-arounds are a form of not letting limitations rule. As the forever-young baby boom generation crosses from middle age to AARP-land, millions are entering the world of work-arounds. Turns out, we can't have it all or do it all. So we rethink our retirement dreams, we look at work differently, we change our recreational interests, we accept a certain lumpiness of form.

These aren't defeats, unless we choose to see them that way. They are signs of maturity and wisdom.

Work-arounds could be my generation's great gift to society. When we accept the need for work-arounds, when we employ ingenuity and flexibility to develop them, and when we keep our eye on output instead of method, we express values that all healthy people and societies need to develop.

The heart of today's political paralysis, for example, is a refusal to accept work-arounds. People quote ancient authorities as if they held a magical path to a perfection that we should be attaining. They scoff at compromise and ambiguity. They try to make tolerance a dirty word and refuse to work with those they deem inadequate or off track.

They seek simplistic solutions — an aspirin between a woman's knees as birth control — rather than allow room for doing what we can with what we have. Better to shut down government than to accept a certain lumpiness of form, they say.

This politics of no work-arounds means staying trapped in that self-loathing which says, "If I can't be perfect, I can't be anything. I must be right, I must be in control." Problem is, the only rational course forward requires compromise, seeing the world as it is and embracing ambiguity. In short, we need a work-around.

Work-arounds aren't a sagging of the spirit. Rather, they represent the bold, can-do wisdom that built a railroad system that united a nation, that saw challenges not as betrayals but as obstacles to be surmounted, that innovated and invented by trial and error.

Work-arounds sound a call for innovation, not a backward-looking quest for perfection. We still search for solutions, but that doesn't mean we need to be perfect, always right or ideologically consistent. ©2012 Religion News Service


Gerry Miller

Gerry Miller

Posted at 1:00 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/17/2012

At age 75, I'm SO familiar with work-arounds and I've made peace with ambiguity.  Thanks to Tom Ehrich for this much needed inspiration!

Harold Burnette

Harold Burnette

Posted at 2:31 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/18/2012

From a proud "Jack of all trades, master of none" pastor, who has always believed it best to be a "generalist" in the molds of famous, eclectic endeavorers such as da Vinci and Franklin, I say work-arounds are essential in our diverse, complex world.

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February issue


Embracing diversity