On his way out the door, the leader of our little hospitality committee at church threw out a casual, “Jules, will you make the coffee? 2 regular, 1 decaf.” I took stock of all the various kitchen gadgetry and found two 12 oz. packages each of regular and decaf coffee grounds and three large 1.5 gallon brewers. I couldn’t find measurement instructions anywhere, so resorted to asking my best friend (… Google). I checked 3 separate sources and all said for 1.5 gallons of water to use 9-12 oz of coffee grounds. Made sense to me, so I stuck most of the first package in the filter and waited for it to brew.
As the brewing wound down I received a text from a girl who actually knows how our church kitchen works. She said something about “half a cup” and “cycles” and “3 times”… it didn’t make much sense, until I inspected the brewed coffee.
You have never tasted a cup of mud so potent. Let’s just say I used 6 times the necessary amount of coffee beans.
It turns out that the coffee maker only spews out maybe half a gallon of water at a time, and therefore you should use a much smaller amount of coffee. It also turns out that by “2 regular” he meant two cycles, not two whole brewers. Glad I didn’t mess that up, too. By the end of the night I wanted to blame someone for lying or cheating or something, but the truth is that I had in my possession not misinformation, but missing information.
Situations like last night’s are the root cause of all my frustration. The way I understand and interact with life thrives on information, and more specifically it thrives on knowing the whole of the information. I’m not a detective; there is nothing that spurs me on to discover all the tiniest details about any given subject. I’m not a creator; my ideas are not original or new. No, I think of myself as an editor. When presented with all the facts, I analyze and twist and reorder and reword until what comes out is not a new idea, but a new representation of a previously existing idea. Give me a job and I’ll take what exists (whether it be thoughts, file structures, stories, making coffee, or artistic endeavors) and make it a little different. A little better. A little more understandable. Sometimes I take it to the next level that the originator implied but never stated.
In order for me to come out with an accurate edition, only one thing is absolutely necessary: I must have all the facts. Sunday evening I was missing vital information. I didn’t know there was a list of measurements and instructions in the cupboard. I didn’t know there were pre-portioned coffee ground packets in that same undiscovered cupboard. I didn’t know the brewer only spit out half a gallon of water at a time. The result: coffee sludge. And you know the most dangerous fact about missing information? Often you don’t even know you’re missing it. Sure, I knew I was missing the instructions, and sure, I knew I didn’t know how much coffee to use. Forgive the wordiness, but I didn’t know that I didn’t know how much water each cycle dispensed, and that was the key.
When faced with an uninformed circumstance, my gut reaction is usually frustration. I want to blame anyone but myself that I wasn’t given all the facts. When I inevitably fail I want to shout, “but I didn’t know!” “It’s not my fault!” “If only they’d told me!”
But I can’t.
Because except in rare circumstances, the finger of blame twists itself back and stares me in the eyes. Do you think the police officer cares that the speed limit sign had fallen down so I “didn’t know” I was going 20 miles over the limit? Do you think I’ll magically get better from a cold because I “didn’t know” the snotty-nosed kids I babysat would give me their diseases? Do I deserve special treatment because I don’t know all the facts? Not one bit.
I am slowly learning that responsibility is taking precautions. It’s looking for information gaps. It’s taking the blame when no one is really at fault so we can all pick up and move forward. It’s trying to ask questions in a calm, respectful manner. It’s never saying “I don’t know” without following it up with, “but I’ll find out.”
Thankfully I’ve been blessed to work with kind and patient people most of my life, but their patience has perhaps let me blame others for more than was strictly fair. My goal for growth this week is to always ask, “why?” and, “are there more ‘whats’?” before stressing about the hows. Join me? If you have any helpful advice, I would love to hear it.
(By the way, I tasted half a cup of that coffee sludge. Don’t try it. I finally fell asleep at 2am and woke up at 5am with my heart racing. Might be coincidental … but nah, you know there’s really no such thing.)