August 17, 2019

Changing the World Doesn't Start at Home

“I cannot remember the last time I made my bed. I suspect that it must have been during the Clinton administration. I could not even say with any certainty how one goes about this particular chore. A cursory search suggests that something called “hospital corners” is involved.

Until very recently I had not thought very much about this personality defect of mine. I had not even considered that it might be a defect. But a chance look at the Amazon bestseller list has given me pause. William McRaven’s Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe the World has been on all the bestseller lists longer than my son has been alive. Like a disturbingly large number of popular books these days it has been adapted by the author (with, I suspect, the contributions of one or more hired hands) from a YouTube video.

The premise of the book is exactly what the title suggests — i.e., that the diurnal stretching and folding of linen over a rectangle of polyurethane foam is a task of well-nigh existential importance. Failure to complete it suggests not mere laziness or indifference to real or perceived social norms but advanced, indeed very likely terminal moral decay. McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL admiral, does not so much argue this point. Instead he tells us about how when he was in boot camp he was very good at making his own bed, so good that when his instructor threw a quarter at the mattress it “jumped several inches off the bed.” Who could fail to be impressed by an anecdote like that, or the one that follows it in which he makes his bed for the first time after being laid up following a parachute accident? “It was,” he tells us, “my way of showing that I had conquered the injury.” Not just conquered, I’m sure, but simply annihilated it with that single, Siegfried-like triumph over the unruly sheets and recalcitrant pillows.”

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