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Four Years at the Mount

Doing it Right - The First Time

September, 2013

This month we challenged our Mount writers to reflect on the idea of what it means to ďDo It Right (the first time).Ē Did they ever think they did something right only to discover that they were wrong and have to go back and redo it? What did they learn from the experience? What is the value in admitting our mistakes and making a point to correct them to the best of our abilities? What do we gain from this as individuals and as a society?

Whatís right is fair

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

What determines if something is done correctly or not? After all, what is right and who gets to decide? Until a year ago, I assumed that I was doing most things "right." This was when I realized that I was living my life without acting on behalf of justice. I was making decisions that I now view as wrong because I was not thinking about those affected by my actions. I was unaware that my decisions had an impact on more than just myself until I learned about the SERRV Market and fair trade. The SERRV Market is an organization focused on fair trade. They make prepayments to their partners, collaborate to create new designs, teach and help develop new crafting skills, provide grants to expand resources, support equal rights, and work to help create a sustainable development, all while providing fair wages to their workers. Their goal is to eradicate poverty wherever it resides. In the 1950s, it was an acronym that stood for Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation. This acronym no longer applies to the organization because their goals have changed. However, they have kept the name as it has taken on a new meaning since they have changed their focus, but not their mission to help people all over the world.

I went to the SERRV Market for the first time with a group during my Mountward Bound trip last year. About ten of us woke up early and loaded ourselves up into the van for the roughly 45 minute venture to the market itself. After arriving, we walked into the basement of a building and were immediately surrounded by commotion. The room was open with a desk to the right and multiple tables to the left. At least two groups were busy inspecting and packaging products at separate tables. We were directed to another station and waited only a few minutes before a worker came over with several boxes to instruct us on our first task. I waited with anticipation as he took a knife and sliced open one of the boxes.

He reached inside and pulled out a set of three wooden trays from India. I admired the trays that he placed on the table before us. They were different sizes and nested within each other. Each had cutout handles so that they could be carried easily. The dark wood within the trays was carved with ornate images of foliage, which had been white washed to stand out. We were instructed on how to package the items, and I watched intently as he wrapped each piece in bubble wrap before nesting them together again. Then it was our turn, and I couldnít wait to get started. We each grabbed a set of trays and our work was underway, wrapping the trays so that they could be sent out to fulfill requests from online, telephone, and catalog orders. I was astonished at the skill it must have taken to create the trays that I was wrapping and I began to realize that each one was just a little bit different than the other. None of them were exactly alike.

After packaging the trays, we were given another task. This time when the box was opened, there were terra cotta nativities from Bangladesh to inspect and then rewrap. Each one was already covered in newspaper but had to be repackaged in bubble wrap. This required each figure to be taken out of the newspaper it was currently in, rewrapped in bubble wrap and then placed back inside the nativityís stable, which was then also wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in an individual box. The boxes were then taped shut and given a label. While completing this task I couldnít help but notice that the characteristics of each Mary, Joseph, Jesus, king, cow and ram were slightly different. Some of the figures of Mary had been carved with different patterned garments and some figures of baby Jesus smiled a little bigger than others. I began to fall in love with the fact that nothing was exactly the same on any of the sets.

As I held the figures in my hands, I started to feel a connection with the artisan in South Asia who had spent so much time crafting such beauty. From then on, when I unwrapped the nativity scene with all its figures, I thought about how they had gotten into my hands. I thought about the length of the procedure and how much work went into the design and production. But mainly I thought about the last time the artisan touched them. I thought about how he held the figures and carved them without a stencil. I imagined him making marks wherever he thought appropriate. I could almost feel his pleasure as he admired his completed work. As I held the same figures I could feel all the emotions he had been through. The connection only grew as I realized that he was the last one to touch the figures I held in my hands. He was crafting there in Bangladesh and I was packaging here in Maryland, but somehow we were connected on a bigger scale. It dawned on me that we were the only two in the world who had held these beautiful works of art in our hands so far. Our paths were united through a magnificent work of art and our relationship continued once it was packaged and sold.

Our last items of the day were glass decanters made in Guatemala. We labeled each "decanter" and prepared them very carefully so as not to break the glass before packing them into boxes. About halfway through the process, we realized that we had been putting the incorrect tags on all of the decanters. We needed to put on tags that stated that the product was made from recycled materials instead of the tags that were already on decanters. As a group, we had to go back through all of the decanters that we had wrapped and unwrap them to change the tags. It was frustrating to have to redo the work we had already done. However, it was worth it because the artisan put so much time and effort into the decanters that they should be advertised as what they truly were. The tags were not done correctly the first time, but they were fixed and the job was completed well.

After finishing for the day we were given a chance to shop in the store. I was thrilled and ended up walking away with multiple bags. Before leaving, I learned about the 3% rule of fair trade. It states that if everyone in the world spent 3% of his or her yearly expenditure on fair trade items, it would balance the worldís economy. Think about that, just three percent.

Things donít always have to be done right the first time as long as they are fixed in the long run. After I became aware of fair trade, I adjusted my lifestyle so that I was able to promote the dignity and respect of people through my consumption of goods. It is important to be reminded of the inherent rights we all have that are sometimes not acknowledged in the right ways.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen

Mistakes were made

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

I canít tell you how many times during my 20 years of walking this earth Iíve thought those words as my plans came crashing down, or shouted them when I realized that there was nothing else for me to do but throw my hands up in the sky and ride whatever crazy train Iíd hopped on all the way to its destination. You see, Iím not sure if I would correct any of the mistakes that Iíve made. Every time Iíve made one I felt myself getting stronger and smarter (or at least more resistant to pain). I count every scratch and bruise on my body as a roadmap to the person I am today. While the pain, both physical and mental, of some decisions is something that often stays with me, I canít think of anything that I wouldnít do over if given the chance. Everything that I have done up to now, whether it has soared or come crashing down, has helped me to become the man I am, and although Iím biased, I like that. This quest started when I was a child, learning things that would later become important parts of the way I approach my life.

I suppose my quest for self-improvement (thatís what weíre calling it for now, so roll with me) started years ago before I was ever able to understand the learning that was taking place. I was five years old when I realized that there was an entirely different world outside for me to explore, enjoy, and make my own. We have five acres of land that is now used to play Frisbee or toss a baseball around with my college bros when they come to visit or get away for a weekend. Back then, those few acres seemed to span an eternity for my small legs and big imagination. I whiled away hours in the forest to the left of our house. Every stick that I picked up became a magic sword, and I would tromp around like it was my sworn duty to protect the forest and everyone in it. This was my kingdom, and all creatures, from the squirrels that would chatter at me amused, to the rabbits that I would occasionally chase after, were under my protection. Even when I tumbled from a log and skinned up my knees and elbows, I emerged from the tree line laughing and giggling. "I HAVE BEEN WOUNDED!" I would shout in a little voice when my mom would open the door and see me standing there covered in a few cuts and a lot of dirt with the biggest smile on my face.

While I wandered the forest I was a protector. When I explored the long stream that cut through our property and snaked around the town into other yards and wild places, I was a pioneer. As a kid there was always the feeling of being bound to your home and to your family. You ate with your family, talked with your family, and went where they decided to go. Most of the time it was wonderful, but sometimes, even at five years old, you longed for more. You yearned to explore.

My brother and I were always careful about how far we traveled into the forest. There were depths to that place that even brave knights like ourselves dared not tread. However, the stream was different. For us, it was a road made of water, pebbles, and clay. We could see where we were going and where we had been. We could travel as far and as long as we wanted to. If we had the energy to move, then we did, and every wonder we saw brought us back day after day. Minnows would swim around our ankles in massive schools, either unaware of the large mammals in their world or completely unperturbed by our presence. Blue herons would occasionally lope around the banks of the creek, gracefully dipping their long beaks into the water when they wanted a snack, emerging only when they wanted to look at us or up at the sky. Turtles of all shapes and sizes, some tiny and adorable looking with big droopy eyes and others with thick shells and large mouths made for snapping, would swim away as we passed. The stream was our Narnia, our Terebithia, and no matter how many times we were late for dinner or how many pairs of clothing we went through in a single day, we still came back. Stupid decisions didnít seem so bad when we could make them in such a wonderful place. Jumping into the water without knowing its depth after three days of rain: bad choice. Deciding to throw lumps of sun-hardened clay: bad choice. Going to play in our own world for hours upon hours: priceless.

From the time I was five until I was about 15, I went on some pretty wild and crazy adventures, more than I can remember and certainly more than I could ever hope to recount. By the time I was done, my mother had a lovely collection of hospital bracelets and the names of the hospital staff memorized. Eventually I did even out, and I hung up my carefree and dangerous ways for a fulltime career as a student and eventually a Resident Assistant. While I love my new life and the experiences that it brings, I wouldnít change the cuts and crashes, bruises and bashings I received as an adolescent for anything. If there was one thing I learned from those adventures in the afternoon sun with my brother and my imagination in tow it was this: it is okay to make mistakes. Itís a lesson that I feel our culture is losing sight of more and more every single day. We are so set on keeping things clean, safe, and antiseptic that we forget some of the intrinsic value of being human. We are all a little wild, messy, and adventurous at heart. No one is perfect or beyond the grasp of failure, pain, or frustration, and it was outside among the bushes and rocks and animals that I learned that lesson. If you stumble, get up. If you sink, keep swimming. If you feel like you canít go another step, go a mile. There is an endless world out there. There are people, places, and things that you can only dream of just waiting for you to claim them. All the world asks is for you to take one more step, and it doesnít care if you stumble doing it. Iím Kyle Ott, wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

The first time, the only time

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

If there is one thing in life that I want to do right the first time, itís marriage. Too often today I see families separated, divorced, and blended. I have witnessed first-hand the strife, anger, and division that these failed relationships breed within the broken family. Iíve seen the stress and emotional pain of a divorce turn otherwise happy people into bitter and angry individuals and change obedient children into rebels. Of course, I recognize that every rule has its exceptions, but those are not what I am here to write about. I am here to discuss how even now I can be preparing for marriage to make sure that the first time is the only time.

This may seem like a surprising topic for a 20-year-old to be discussing in such an open forum, but it is a reality that faces me more each and every day. Many people around me, friends and family alike, have been engaged or married at a young age. I witnessed one engagement fall through, one engagement never come to an end, two weddings, countless dates, and of course, my own parentsí relationship. As someone who hopes to one day be married, I canít help but watch and learn from all of these relationships. From the failed engagement, I learned that one can want to be married for the wrong reasons. From the endless engagement, I learned that timing is important when considering marriage. From one wedding I learned that patience and commitment are important to developing a lasting relationship, and from my parents I learned that you should always marry your best friend. Despite all of these learning opportunities, I find that experience is the best teacher.

While Iím not currently at a place in my life where I could even consider marriage, I know that it is equally important even now to think about and prepare for it. A speedy and awkward relationship I had over the summer made me realize just how unprepared I truly was and how important it is to treat every relationship seriously. Now, I donít want to sound like a dating advice columnist here, but I do want to tell you what Iíve learned recently.

As humans, we love to be in relationships. We love being in love and love being loved. While there is nothing wrong with this desire, seeking to gratify it with many short-term relationships can be damaging not only to you and your current partner, but also to your future marriage. Every time you enter a relationship, you give away a part of yourself to that person. There will always be a connection between you and that individual through shared emotions, experiences, and memories. It is something that cannot be undone. Each relationship you have, you carry with you into your next relationship. It shapes how you experience your newest partner as you view them in context of your past relationships. For example, you may really like that Andrew calls you every day unlike Jake did, but hate that he doesnít call you cute nicknames like Sam did. It becomes a process of comparison and contrast that has both its pros and its cons. While you are able to learn what you like in a person, you may also become dissatisfied in a relationship when your current partner does not quite combine all the positive characteristics of your previous partners. You may even feel as if you have to compromise when you canít find that perfect combination. Itís a slippery slope, which is why dating should be taken seriously and navigated carefully.

Perhaps the most important thing that I have learned is to take relationships slowly. I mean glacial. One day is not enough time to get to know someone nor is one week or even one month. My cardinal rule is to marry my best friend; this means months or even years of getting to know a person and understand them. Many people use the dating process as a way to get to know another person, but isnít the point of dating to find out if you want to commit to that person? Shouldnít the getting-to-know-you part come before the letís-see-if-we-want-to-get-married stage? When we become impatient, we tend to skip that first step, combine it with the second, and call it dating. Why not? Itís what the world tells us to do through movies, music, and media. Weíre told that love is a wonderful, uncontrollable feeling that we spontaneously fall into, but if itís something we donít have control over, what happens when that wonderful feeling decides to leave us, and we fall out of love? It may mean that you were never in love to begin with. Love is a choice. Itís a decision to commit yourself to someone. Itís the fortitude to stay with that person even when things arenít as romantic as you may have imagined them. Itís the self-sacrifice to go out of your way to make that person happy. Itís the patience to wait for the right person to be committed to in the first place. Love is perfectly controllable, but the art to exercise that control has been lost in the hustle and bustle of an ever faster and impatient society.

If we return to the example of my friendís failed engagement that I mentioned earlier and compare it to the successful marriage of my cousin, we can easily see this lesson play out. My friend was only a freshman in college when she became engaged. I remember how excited she was and all of the pictures she posted on Facebook showing off her new diamond ring. About 10 months later, my friend met a new guy who was cuter and treated her better. She broke off the engagement. Two years later she continues to bounce from guy to guy, never quite satisfied. In contrast, my cousin knew her husband for three years before becoming engaged. After their marriage, she moved away from all of her friends and family here in Maryland to live with him in Chicago where he could pursue a business venture. In that single act, she expressed more self-sacrificing love than my friend ever showed to any one of her boyfriends, let alone her ex-fiancť.

I know that love is probably not what you expected to read about when you read the title of this article, but I think this is a lesson that has been lost over time. I simply wanted to take this opportunity to do my part in slaying the current belief in a fickle, wavering love and reviving the identity of a strong, steadfast love. We have been taught to believe that the stronger our passion the stronger our love, but we have forgotten that love is so much more complicated than that. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." - I Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

Read other articles by Nicole Jones

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