Days Without Incident

As my wife and I sat and shared with our small group the other night we both came to a similar moment of inspiration. We giggled like junior-high kids and since then the idea has stayed with me, filtering down through my subconscious and banging into things. Our little private joke played into something I was already pondering.

Perception is Truth. But Perception is rarely correct.

What we believe to be the truth is shaped entirely by the information we have available. Trouble is, we’re never operating with all the information. So we make staggering assumptions which keep us at arms length from each other, and might even make us worse in the process.

Marriages are a great example of this. Ask anyone to talk about their married friends and they’ll probably describe the couple that’s having trouble, the couple that never fights, and the other couple who works but no one knows why. And invariably, if you are married, you begin holding your own relationship up alongside these others to see how you measure up.

“Look honey, they’re more considerate than us.”

“Yes, sweety, but that’s because he’s not such an asshole all the time.”

“Wow, look at them, I don’t understand why they stay together.”

“I bet people say that about us…”

And it’s all crap.

There are those that say marriage is being attacked and threatened. I say it’s been put on a pedestal and canonized to the point that we don’t talk about it candidly enough. It’s all whispers and suspicion and secrets and assumption – and then we apply all that misinformation into some mutated yardstick for our own relationship.

Which brings me back to the idea my wife and I had that sent us giggling:

In the blue collar factories of the world, places with coveralls and hard hats, there’s traditionally a sign with interchangeable numbers and a declaration of plant safety. Some variation of “Safety First! This plant has gone ______ Days Without an Incident.”

The numbers grow, changed daily to reflect the ongoing safety of the plant and encourage careful action. Occasionally something boneheaded happens and then big zeros wind up on the board. Everyone takes a sobering look around and tries to go back to work with extra care to keep all their fingers this time.

So there we are sitting in our small group talking about our desire to be transparent with each other. We’re all for that, as walking through life candidly with others is an enormous blessing.  And along these lines one couple said they’d had an “incident” earlier that day. Suddenly my wife and I found ourselves giggling at the thought of one of those boards in every kitchen, probably painted by some person with a little boutique and a penchant for overcharging on knick-knacks:

___ ___ ___ Days Without Incident.

Every house would have their own variation, but the message would be the same.
“Here’s how long it’s been since this marriage had a work stopping argument.”

Imagine going over to a friends house for dinner and seeing three zeros on that kitchen sign. You’d know right away that while dinner conversation may be wonderful, you’re eating in a warzone. It might even be possible to notice the half-vacuumed room or the slightly burned side dish to find the catalyst for what would otherwise have been a petty private argument.

There’d be no more hiding the truth that we’re all struggling to make this thing work. And I have to think the transparency would help us all realize our sameness, and find camaraderie in the sharing.

It would be pretty hard to lust after someone else’s spouse once you realize they’re just as hard to live with as your own. Or maybe that couple everyone thinks is perfect seems to never get to double digits on their board. Would that be sad? No, I say it’s comforting.

I can get so caught up in the little argument, or disappointment, or failure because it exists in the fortress of my private life. Once the windows get opened and my little perspective of truth meets the fresh air of reality those problems morph to a manageable size.

I’m not suggesting that big struggles don’t happen. Actually, if you don’t have one right now, then one is probably on the way. But knowing that everyone around you is engaged in their own fight for survival makes it easier to try again. Misguided perspectives asphyxiate in the fresh air.

I almost want to make the sign for our kitchen. I wonder how much it would motivate us? What conversations would it bring up the first time a visitor saw the number? How quickly would casual comments about the weather turn into sharing something real?

I want long stretches of Days Without Incident. But as blessed as I am in my relationship I doubt we’d set any records. In fact, I doubt I know anyone who would… and that makes me love my wife and my friends even more.

Put on a hard-hat, and be careful out there.


  1. Interesting concept Todd. However, I am certain that the numbers on the incident sign in our house would never get higher than 4 or 5 days. I am crazy about my wife. She is simply confrontational.

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