Measure twice, cut once

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, July 21, 2018

by Charles Qualls

Experienced carpenters and contractors know something that we’d all do well to keep in mind.  They have a saying that, when followed, guides them to not waste time or resources. The saying is: “Measure twice, cut once.” 

In early February of 1998, I was working with a mission team in Temuco, Chile. Church members were adding a second-floor on to an existing girls’ home. Seems in that day, and in that country, boys were valued highly. Sadly, if a girl were born there, the bias was that she needed to be perfect. If there was any physical or mental limitation, any facial flaw, a girl might sometimes be abandoned or given away.  This is what we were told.

Baptists there had opened a home for girls, seeing to it that these orphaned or abandoned children were raised safely and educated. The need was such that additional housing was a vital wish. We were there for two weeks for the framing phase. Other groups would follow who would set wall boards and do finish work. 

We were even having to build our own trusses for the roof system. The wood we had was still green, such that water would well up as you drove nails by hand. Supplies were limited and costly. That’s when I heard it again: measure twice, cut once.

Oh, I had heard the saying before that on Habitat work sites and on previous church builds. For some reason, though, on that trip to Chile it stuck with me. Over the years, I have observed that this carpenter’s wisdom has applications way beyond the craft of woodwork.

Few complex issues actually have simple solutions. 

We’ve all probably heard the story of the truck driver who ignored the posted bridge height. Sure enough, he drove his truck underneath and the tallest point got stuck by just a little. He tried backing out to no avail. Traffic stacked up. Townspeople surrounded the truck. Engineers were brought in.  Everyone was circling the truck and speculating when a little boy walked up: “Have you tried letting most of the air out of the tires?” In that odd case, it was the simple solution eluding them all.

Almost no matter the topic, there’s always one person who’ll say, “I could fix that in 15 minutes.”

Then, they proceed to say something that no doubt countless others have proffered before them. The Arab-Israeli conflict. The eradication of polio worldwide. Healthcare. How to revitalize an aging church. Someone’s always got the “simple” solution that is, in actuality, usually too simplistic instead. 

Wise ones around them know that in most things, you’ve got to measure at least twice so that you only have to cut once. 

The world watched recent efforts to safely extract a boys’ soccer team from a cave in Thailand. We’ll wonder for some time how they really got in the fix in the first place. Two and a half miles back in there, they were stuck badly. The impending rainy season made waiting for a few months to then walk them out an option. Albeit one with fraught with its own problems. 

Others were convinced they should simply go ahead and swim them out. Never mind that none of them seemed to be able to swim. Theories abounded. An experienced professional diver died while helping in the situation. That was sobering.

Worldwide, tender hearts were calling for someone to do something. Now. 

Turns out, there were wise people there in Thailand who were taking measurements the whole time.  Patiently, they got the analysis they needed. They considered various options and weighed the costs of each.

They pulled in the right people, and assembled what they needed so that when an action was finally chosen, they would have the best chance. 

As I write, only two of the team remain in the cave now. If the ill among them survive, this is already a success story compared with what we feared.  All 11 whose removals so far were attempted have made it out safely, it seems.

None of us ever like to be stuck in what is derisively termed “paralysis by analysis.” But sometimes we also need to remember what old carpenters know. The simple solution to complex issues is rarely the right solution. Patience, wisdom and the collective insights of the right people being asked the right questions will usually see us farther down the road.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.