Just For Youth... How to Make Murphy's Law Work for You

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Just For Youth... How to Make Murphy's Law Work for You

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Murphy's law and its variations are the subject of books and calendars. We've heard Murphy's corollaries, such as: If buttered toast falls to the floor, the probability that it will fall butter-side down is in direct proportion to the cost of the rug.

Where did Murphy's Law originate? According to one book on the subject, this truism was invented by U.S. Air Force captain Ed Murphy back in 1949. Capt. Murphy, who tested airplanes, noticed that a technician kept making the same mistake when designing one of the parts. Capt. Murphy reportedly said, "If there is any way to make things go wrong, he will." As the story goes, this stated principle came to be called Murphy's Law, and variations of his words have spread around the world.

Although this supposed law is usually not taken too seriously, some professionals soberly espouse the principle. Engineers, for example, have to assume that things will go wrong. Mistakes in planes, bridges, buildings and the like can be terribly costly both in money and lives lost, so engineers have to constantly suppose that, if anything is left to chance, it will go wrong. In one tragic example, after thorough investigations, officials found that the billion-dollar space shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff because of one relatively inexpensive part that did not function properly.

Murphy' at work

Does Murphy's Law affect us in everyday life? Here are some variations on Murphy that may sound familiar to you:

• If several things can go wrong, the one that does will do the most damage.

• If things are left to chance, they will tend to go from bad to worse.

• When things go well, something wrong is bound to happen.

• When tallying results, the figure that seems most obviously right and does not need checking is the one that is wrong.

• Experimental results should be repeatable; they should all go wrong in the same manner.

• A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.

• Sooner or later the worse possible set of circumstances will occur.

• Things get worse under stress.

• When a cable or rope is cut according to a measuring mark, it will always be too short.

• A mistake will not appear in a unit until it has passed the final inspection.

• After a unit is assembled, pieces will be left over.

• Whichever magazine contains the story you want to read is the one you can't find.

• It doesn't matter how much time and effort it takes to buy something, after you buy it you will see it advertised less expensively in another store.

• When your plane lands late, the connecting flight will have taken off on time.

• The other lane or line is the fastest.

• Expenses rise until they equal income.

• If everything else fails, read the instructions.

• There is never enough time to do something well but always enough time to repair it.

Does Murphy's Law affect us? It often seems so.

But is Murphy's law always bad? Not necessarily. If looked at properly, Murphy's Law can even be of considerable help. Stated positively, Murphy's Law has a simple and important lesson for us: Carelessness is costly.

Double-checking what appears to have been done properly often reveals mistakes that could have proved disastrous. This can apply to almost any human endeavor—from a child turning in his homework, to a father repairing a light socket, to a mother cooking a meal, to a scientist sending a spaceship into outer space.

Murphy's Law in the Bible?

Surprising as it may seem, the principle of Murphy's Law is even found in Scripture. The book of Proverbs is filled with advice against being careless and overlooking mistakes. It points out that the person who is negligent and careless will usually have a hard time in life and bring problems on himself.

Consider, for example, these particular proverbs:

• "He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich" (Proverbs 10:4).

• "The hand of the diligent will rule, but the lazy man will be put to forced labor" (Proverbs 12:24).

Perhaps you have noticed that overconfidence can generate costly mistakes. It's always easier to take things for granted or assume they are right, but failing or refusing to double-check what we've done gives Murphy's Law a chance to exact its toll.

The book of Proverbs also brings out this lesson in life:

• "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).

• "The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps. A wise man fears and departs from evil, but a fool rages and is self-confident" (Proverbs 14:15-16).

Of course, sometimes we just don't pay enough attention to what we do. We lack concentration. "Keep your mind on what you're doing while you're doing it," as one successful man put it. Also, we don't always exercise sufficient common sense and foresight. Such lack of discernment of potential problems in life can lead to serious errors and problems.

• "Folly is joy to him who is destitute

of discernment, but a man of understanding walks uprightly" (Proverbs 15:21).

We can live a much better life by avoiding carelessness in our studies, work and family life. Sometimes paying attention to details makes the difference between success and failure.

Perhaps the best story to illustrate this principle is the legend of the death of King Richard III of England. In an epic battle to decide who was going to rule England, Richard faced the forces of Henry, duke of Richmond. He wanted to prepare his horse for battle, but the blacksmith didn't have enough nails for the last horseshoe.

Impatiently, Richard's guard asked the blacksmith, "Will the shoe hold?" The blacksmith replied, "I'm not sure; it lacks the final nail."

"Very well," said the guard, "it will have to do."

He left and handed the king the horse.

Soon, as the two forces clashed on the battlefield, King Richard was in the thick of things, fighting and encouraging his men. Then he noticed some of his men were retreating. The king galloped forth to steady them when the missing nail did its mischief.

The horseshoe came off, the horse tripped, and the king fell. Before he could recover, the horse fled in fright. His men saw him fall and lost courage. As Henry's men closed in around him, Richard cried out: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

But it was too late. His army fled, and he was killed.

Perhaps all was lost for the lack of a simple horseshoe nail. If this legend is indeed true, Murphy's Law was alive and well here, as throughout human history.

Does Murphy's Law have to impact your life? Maybe so, but maybe not. You can watch for it and be on guard against it. How? By simply applying some of the biblical proverbs discussed earlier. Reread those lessons so you don't have to learn them the hard way. By guarding against Murphy's Law, it will then not work its damage in your life.

If we remember that carelessness will eventually exact a costly price, perhaps we will not take things for granted and double-check what we do. If we diligently follow these principles, then maybe we can steer clear of Murphy's Law. GN