"The Inspector General's Dilemma"

By Dean Packham

There lived a man in a certain village who had distinguished himself for his exactness and care for details. Even as a boy, he had a desire to learn how things function dismantling and reassembling clocks, for instance. One of his favorite toys, as a child, was a magnifying glass. He would use it for hours on end, examining insects, rocks, and bits and pieces of items he would find around his home. His parents found him easy to have around because he was never any bother, always focused and intent on his examinations.

His desire to "get to the bottom of things" developed into a fascination with construction techniques and building materials. His extraordinary abilities made him invaluable as an expert in obtaining building permits and tracking construction progress. In fact, he was employed by the village as a certified "building inspector." The Inspector General became well-known for his exactness in adhering, without fail, to the guidelines and standards set by the village council.

However, the council leaders soon began to notice a disturbing trend. The number of new structures in the town began to decline. Instead of growing and becoming more beautiful, the community appeared more and more run-down. There were no more new buildings. Even the smaller, do-it-yourself projects around the citizens' homes were on the wane.

When the village fathers sought a reason, they learned from the people in the community that the Inspector General's penchant for exactitude was one of the main causes. People were reluctant, even afraid, to commence a building project, no matter how simple, because of the Inspector General's demands. He required strict adherence to the minute points of the law. "He made me take off my new door knob," an old woman tearfully complained, "because I re-used some rusty screws." A young boy also spoke up: "Yeah, and he broke apart my lemonade stand because I didn't have approved blueprints on file, and I'd painted over some knot holes." Many factories and enterprises were built in other villages just because the owners were reluctant to have to deal with the Inspector General's unbending attitude.

The Council of Elders customarily made allowances. They granted exceptions. They allowed for "variances." They tried to be more practical and lenient, using "common sense" and the Rule of Thumb "Does It Work?" as their guideline. But they hoped to retain the skills and knowledge of their friend and neighbor and long-time employee. How could they help him to soften his outlook? Could he learn moderation? Could he see the human side, the purposes for the rules and regulations, the "spirit" behind the "letter" of the law? Could he learn to live with imperfection?

After meeting privately with their inspector, they decided, as part of his probationary learning, to have him visit with three venerable citizens whose building applications had been rejected: a gardener, an Indian chief, and the zookeeper. All three were simple men, wise from many years of living close to nature and God's creations. Perhaps they would have a way of giving him a new perspective on his work.

The Inspector General first went to visit the gardener. The gardener had been disappointed when the Inspector General's meticulous inspection had found flaws in the wood of his trellis, and cracks in the foundation of his greenhouse, and...had resulted in his license being revoked.

He and the stiff-necked Inspector General walked as they talked, admiring the beautiful flowers and plants in the hothouse. The gardener plucked a rose as they passed, and said: "You see, if you take a rose off the stem, pull apart the petals, count them, weigh them, measure them, examine them to your heart's content, you may have some interesting information, but you no longer have a rose. My friend, don't dissect things too much. By the time we dissect a living thing, we have killed it. There is a place for analysis, but it can be destructive in living, human interaction. It is fatal in prayer, meditation, spiritual pursuits, and one's relationship with God. Learn more with your heart, and less with your brain." He continued, "I have found that God can do anything with my life and my plants. I know He helps me when I trust him. So I proceed on that, and try not to get too theoretical about it."

The I.G. next went to visit the Indian Chief. His teepee had been condemned by the Inspector General because it didn't meet the minimum standards for human dwelling places. Although the Chief was content with this simple tent and the shelter it provided, it was not "up to code." Some rain did seep in at times. There was no foundation, no running water, no proper sewage control, and no fire control provisions just to mention a few of the glaring omissions.

The chief was stoic in his response. He would get by. But could he help the Inspector General be more accepting of apparent faults and failings. Could anything short of absolute perfection be of any worth?

"May I show you my mocassin?" he asked. "My mother made these moccasins for me. She spent many loving hours preparing the leather, artistically sewing on the beadwork with its unique design and colors. To me the mocassin is perfect in every way, flawlessly made. However, my dear mother tells me that she has allowed a few beads to be misplaced. Only she knows where those 'mistakes' are located. She could have replaced those beads to make her work 'perfect,' but refused to do so. She sees it as her 'signature.' This is a common practice among our people. The quality and function of the mocassin is not affected. If you decided to be a mocassin inspector, and if you searched long and hard enough, you could find the misplaced beads. You then could say that for the protection of the consumer, my mother must not be allowed to produce her shoddy merchandise. You could even claim that allowing such poor craftsmanship is 'dangerous' to the health and welfare of the village, and that it is your duty to protect the populace from dangerous and evil practices."

Had the Inspector General let his penchant for detail, his love for minutia, his need to have all "in order" taken away his ability to accept normalcy? Perhaps he had been too strict. But how could he compromise his standards? Who would protect the village from the dangerous, the atypical, the uncommon, the unregulated, the unscientific, the unprovable? No, he mustn't let down his guard. He must remain vigilant. These were his thoughts as he went to the zookeeper....

The zookeeper loved his job, the animals, the handiwork of the Creator. His study of nature's wonders had taught him that variations weren't ugly flaws to be eliminated, but unique beauties to be appreciated. Some animal characteristics would not pass the scrutiny of a good design engineer, but they seemed to work. With Mother Nature and the environment, he tried not to meddle. Early in his career he had been tempted to "fix" some apparent flaw, or to think to himself, "God really messed up on this one; I could have done a better job." Now he had learned to remind himself: "Remember, it gets the job done. It works. Leave well enough alone." Often, an animal characteristic appeared almost "too good to be true"----a bird that should not be able to fly, but does----a fish with no eyes, but which still finds food to survive----an ant which can carry much more weight than would seem possible for its tiny frame, but loved the "miracles" of creation.

The zookeeper said to the Inspector General, "Let me use the centipede as an example. Do you remember the old verse which says:

A centipede was happy quite,
Until a frog in fun
Said, "Pray which leg comes after which?"
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in the ditch,
Considering how to run.
Sometimes we examine a thing so much that we forget the beauty and miracle of its existence. I now try to accept and enjoy and be grateful for what God has provided for us, without too much questioning about the way things work. I'm just glad that 'it works for me.'"

The Inspector General had much to consider. He understood that others did not accept or aspire to his standards of excellence. But his own integrity would not allow him to compromise. "What's right, is right," he muttered to himself. "There's a place for everything, and everything in its place. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right." With each spoken platitude, almost as an oath of office, his spine stiffened a little more, and his eyes sparkled with the distant vision he alone could see.

Well, the village council eventually had to let him go. Sadly, he became somewhat psychotic and a public nuisance. Even though he was no longer a public official, he continued to enter the homes and businesses of his family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers to warn them of safety infractions and not-so-apparent structural failings. Even a most beautiful and functional building was not immune to his poking and prodding and he was always able to find some thing that needed correcting.

He was as hard on himself as he was on others. This made it hard for him to find a place to live. So when he was not in one of the village intersections directing traffic, he lived in a tent on the beach, alone.

Comments? Write:  Dean Packham

©  1999 Dean Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included

This story was written as a rebuttal to "The Man Who Bought A House."