Defining the objective

Any military officer will tell you that defining the objective is essential to any operation. If you don’t define the objective, how do you know if you’ve completed the mission? How do you know if you’ve won or lost?

The same can be said of family chores. “Will you do a couple of loads of laundry?” sounds simple enough, however, that request is almost as vague as the command, “Go win the battle.”

When my wife asks if someone will do a couple of loads of laundry, her definition of the objective is to take the dirty clothes to the laundry room, run each load through the washer and dryer, fold the clothes, and put them in the appropriate location for clean clothes. In wife world, if someone can tell that laundry is in process, it is not done.

Now that I understand the objective, I know this is what the request means. The first time I heard the request, I thought, “Get the clothes to the laundry room, run them through the washer and dryer, and fold them neatly.” In husband world, if you don’t leave the finished project out where someone can notice it, it doesn’t really count. After all, if no one sees the folded laundry, who will know laundry has been done?

In the boy’s world, doing a couple of loads of laundry seems to mean, throw a load of clothes in the washer. When the cycle is complete he faces an unforeseen challenge. He knows he is supposed to a couple of loads. That means more than one load, but the first load is still in the washer. How can he do a second load? The washer is full. At some point it dawns on him that he can move the load in the washer to the dryer. With luck, he will also start the dryer.

With the problem of the clothes in the washer solved, a new load of clothes can go into the washer. He can start the washer and let it do its thing. His task is complete. He has done a couple of loads of laundry. The battle is over and he is victorious, until two days later when the clothes in the washer are discovered, now with a less-than-fresh smell.

I have discovered that defining the objective often means communicating the obvious. What is obvious in one person’s world is completely obscure in another person’s world. Part of the difference is experience. If you drop a box of nails in the garage, every nail must be picked up. That is obvious in my world. I’ve seen what nails do to tires. The boy has yet to have the experience of changing a tire on a busy road. Part of the difference is personality. Some people might describe my office as chaotic. I see a busy workspace.

Through all of this, I have learned that when I tell the boy to take that hill, I not only have to tell him which hill to take, but also what the hill will look like when he’s taken it. Even then, the completed task may not look as I had imagined, but it will be a lot closer.

RJ Johnson

I have been a priest for 16 years.  I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010.  If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.

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Volume 8, Issue 18, Posted 9:47 AM, 09.20.2016