When I was a young boy in the 1950s and early 60s we still had full service filling stations (that’s what we called gas stations, in case you didn’t know). And each time someone drove up and parked beside the gas pump the attendant would come out and ask, “Shall I check under the hood?”
If the driver answered in the affirmative the filling station attendant would raise the car’s hood (most cars had hoods that opened from the outside then), check the oil and the radiator along with pumping gas and wiping the windshield. Invariably, he would find that the car needed about a quart of oil, and he was happy to accommodate the driver (and add that to his/her bill).
My father taught me early on not to pay attention to the station attendant’s measurement of the car’s oil, since (he said) it takes about 15 minutes for oil to drain back into a measurable place in the crankcase after the engine has been running for a while. In other words, expect that you will always appear to need some oil if you take the measurement at the wrong time; in truth, if you added oil at that point you would likely be overfilling the crankcase.
We all know the truth of a matter, and how things appear, can be quite different, don’t we?
I was reminded of this today as I arranged to take my Toyota Corolla to a dealership for a safety recall repair. I am seldom pleased when dealing with car dealerships of any kind; I suppose there is good reason for the negative stigma they carry.
The dealership was impressive: well manicured lawns, immaculate buildings, shiny new cars, even glimmering pavement in the service area where you drive in. The signage was absolutely gorgeous, and the uniforms worn by employees colorful and attractive. The opulence was everywhere.
But . . . the service was less . . . much less than first rate. The appointment I had made on the phone seemed to make no difference whatsoever; the person I had been told to ask for was not even at work today, and the schedule did not allow for the service I had been promised. [By the way, I can tell you that they made some changes and finally did accommodate me in the end].
The opulent exterior of the dealership in no way represented the way things actually were once you were “under the hood.”
I was reminded of this same phenomenon early this morning as it was announced on the radio that almost all of the eleven Atlanta Public School officials indicted in a cheating scandal had taken the deal offered them by the prosecution, i.e. to admit guilt, and agree to a $5,000 fine, and community service.
Needless to say, school children were harmed in all this craziness, too. But adequate payment for that loss . . . well . . . can that even be quantified? The teachers and administrators involved in the scandal just wanted student test scores to look good to state and national officials, so they doctored them a bit. The lie looked good on the surface, but underneath, it was what it was – a lie.
I am no doomsayer, but . . . I don’t see our society growing into a better and more loving collection of communities. It could be argued that we exhibit more moral devolution than evolution. Ask yourself how many of our national leaders you trust.
We are no longer even shocked when we hear of scandals involving actors, entertainers, athletes, politicians, academicians, religious leaders, corporations, non-profits, etc. Or even . . . the neighbors down the street.
We have come to expect that there are numberless closets with countless skeletons hanging in them. If we don’t know of any scandal in a given situation, we suspect it is just because it has not yet come to light.
We have become dyed-in-the-wool cynics.
Now you may point out that the gas station attendant in my childhood story was exhibiting some dishonesty as he wiped the dipstick and reinserted it into the crankcase to measure the oil level before it had time to settle. And you would probably be right. [Although, I must add that any attendant worth his salt in those days would allow some margin in his assessment for that very reason; not everyone was dishonest. In addition, he would show the dipstick markings to the customer, and let him/her make the decision.]
Granted, what is truly “under the hood” has been a challenge for human beings since man first walked the earth. Humans migrate toward the shiny exterior; we like to dress up the outside even if the inside is going rotten. It’s in our hard wiring, our DNA (if you will).
That may be one reason why we have embraced the fitness rage in our country. We are enamored of beautiful bodies, and we will do almost anything to . . . .
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” [I’m getting onto myself, because I am really interested in fitness and looking good – even in my old age. Ha!]
I don’t mean to start a war here. I just want to say this: “Look at the way we emphasize the importance of how things APPEAR, as opposed to how they really ARE.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” a 12th century cleric has said. But I would add that it did not fall in a day either. There was a gradual disintegration.
It crumbled from the inside.
When the inside of something is rotten; that is, when the outside of a thing is not representative of what is truly on the inside . . . there will come a moment when the truth emerges out of the subterfuge. I have seen it happen in my own life, and have witnessed it in countless others.
So, what is truly “under the hood” in our society? Shall we check? If so, we must do so one person at a time.
The answer will be found in your own heart.
Here is the procedure:
- Sit quietly (for at least 15 minutes; to allow your inner oils to drain into the crankcase)
- Use an accurate dipstick (one you’ve wiped clean of past stains)
- Add adequate SAE approved lubricant as needed
Let’s make sure we spend at least as much time making our insides look good as we do making our outsides look good.