My parents were visiting us a few weeks ago. As a result I ate at restaurants more than usual. In between waits for meals, I had the chance to visit many restrooms in various degrees of cleanliness, ranging from "I could live here" to "I'll use a paper towel to touch anything".
It is curious how my behavior while washing hands changed based on that state of cleanliness. Facing a spotless sink and, on occasion, listening to ambient Italian music, I did pick an extra towel after washing my hands, but to dry up the faucet before I left. In the absence of anyone in the room, it was not a case of peer pressure. I suspected early stages of obsessive compulsive disorder and left.
Later it came to me: Quality breeds Art and Art is very personal. When I witness a job excellently done, I immediately trace it to a rare individual; while I stand in front of the object, I am trying to imagine the number of countless expert decisions made by someone with skills developed over the years.
Don't think I am crazy - restroom analogy notwithstanding - but I believe Quality is absolute; it has the same power in a restroom, in a book, or on a painting.
Now I have an anonymous janitor to thank for reminding me that our work can be more than something attached to an e-mail or placed on a shelf. It reminded me that we cannot be perfect at everything we do, but that we must pursue perfection in at least some of the things we choose to.
With enough Quality, part of our daily work becomes Art, and Art speaks through time and space on our behalf. It inspires, it educates, it gives meaning. It can even motivate strangers to do unexpected good.
Facing the endless assault of the "good enough" message promoted by our hurried western culture, I think more of us should take upon ourselves to make an impractical stand against it every now and then. In the same way people tell us we should exercise at least 3 times a week, shouldn't we pursue perfection while executing a mundane task at least once a day?
Even sworn pragmatists should appreciate that, on Monday morning, the delivery person drops a package at his door with enough good in that "good enough" box hammered shut before the weekend.