Trimming the Measure

In the Hall of Wesir, we are asked to defend ourselves before a tribunal of gods and even our own hearts in order to prove that we have lived within the confines of Ma’at. There are many lists of the 42 Virtues and Negative confessions. The declarations center around similar themes, but each list can be unique unto itself. Not all lists are mutually exclusive.

Even still, they give us a good idea about what the perfect man or woman could do to uphold Ma’at. No one is perfect, but we should have some set of values and codes of conduct which we strive to manifest. Many of these lists give the same virtue more than once in the same list, emphasizing its importance. Some virtues are present across many lists.

It is to one of the virtues that I turn my attention, particularly because it can be harder to uphold the further we get in life.

“I shall not trim the measure.”

Truth, honesty, and fairness are prevalent themes in many lists (“I have not told lies, I have not slandered others.” In the wisdom texts (Maxims of Good Discourse) we are told not to lean to one side(have biases)). This is yet another virtue which extols the honesty of the speaker.

“Trimming the measure” can refer to dealings where you do not deliver all that you promised, took more than your due, or cheated others out of what was rightly theirs. Who will know if you take a little of the grain from the granary after hours? It’s your grain, too, right? Or maybe your customer paid for 3 pounds of spice, but he won’t notice if you skim off a few ounces. Perhaps you cut corners on a project. There is the tendency to promise that your product will be of a higher quality than it really is. Sometimes, we just plain don’t but say we did.

Whenever we interfere with the means by which value is assessed or allotted, we act against Ma’at. But why do we do this? Why do we take more than is fair? Why do we tamper with others’ trust and due? Why do we spirit away with this form of dishonesty?

The world can be a tight place. Business can be slow, plans don’t work out, unexpected expenses arise. We feel trapped, hopeless, and overwhelmed. Even when things go well, we are inclined to plan for the worst and seek out a “cushion” to bounce off of when hard times hit. Avarice and laziness are also ample motivators. Rarely is doing less work but getting more out of it unappealing. In any of these instances, we over analyze and get anxious. What do you do when you need money to make ends meet but business just isn’t enough? What do you do when something is due but you have countless other obligations that interfere with your ability to deliver it? How do you cope with exhaustion when you still have more to accomplish?

You do what anyone does–you look to efficiency for a solution. Stereotypes are one way of doing this. Your brain can’t process every bit of information it picks up. The smells in the room, the sounds off the street, background conversations, the roughness of your jeans, the person you are talking to, and all the things you could be worrying about are just too much. We drain out what’s unnecessary. Stereotypes, though erroneous, allow us to assess threat levels and continue on with our day quickly. They form a schema all their own. It doesn’t make them right. But it’s a good illustration of how we cut corners all the time, with out noticing, even when it is to our detriment.

Efficiency could also mean taking a little more than you need or paid for. Or it can mean reciprocating a value which is less than that which was originally given.

But don’t these corners need to be cut? We can’t pay attention to our work when we are worrying about that sweet smell in our hair or the sound of the copy machine. Just like we couldn’t continue to work three jobs, have a baby, begin our own business, volunteer each day for two hours, and attempt to write a book while taking graduate courses if we simply can’t find the time. Some people could do this…some of us can’t. It would be a little much. We either have to figure out how to do them all efficiently (but well) or drop a few of our responsibilities.

The difference between efficiency and trimming the measure is honesty, necessity, and repercussions.

Will your efficiency put others in an equally tight spot?

Are you honest about the quality of your work or how much you need?

Are the short cuts necessary? Are you honest about taking them?

It’s a dog eat dog world, and its only natural to do what it takes to survive. But you can survive ethically. And we must remain objective about just how necessary our actions are when they are borderline ethical. We must also remain conscious of when survival tactics have become unnecessary and are being used to thrive.

We have to remember why we value honesty in the first place. We have to find a place of security within ourselves which cannot be shaken so that when the chance arises to steal more than we need or do poor quality work or cheat our fellow workers or friends, we remain strong in our convictions and will shy away from trimming the measure.

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