The Wisdom of John Steinbeck

I think the truly great writers are the ones to who have an ability to touch on ‘great (or universal) truths’ that maybe readers have always subconsciously known but never expressed, or never thought to try to express.  While working my ‘day job’ this week, I was reminded of a passage in Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley.  It’s about a third of the way through the book, when the author contemplates going into Canada, but is thwarted by some problem of his not having the proper certificate of rabies vaccination for his dog (the titular Charley).  He becomes exasperated with the customs people.  He says:

“I guess this is why I hate governments, all governments.  It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by fine-print men.  There’s nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists.  I highly approve of vaccination, I feel it should be compulsory; rabies is a dreadful thing.  And yet I found myself hating the rule and all governments that made rules.  It was not the shots but the certificate that was important. And it is usually so with governments – not a fact but a small slip of paper.”

This is often true in the workplace – especially at unfortunate companies (like mine) which are now bound by the regulations of the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act. (By the way, thanks, Enron!).  The intent of the act is good and sound, the execution of it sometimes devolves into the equivalent of Steinbeck’s “certificate” and “small piece of paper.”  In the world of SOX, it often becomes not the control that’s been put in place or its effectiveness that‘s important, but the simple fact that “Yes, we have a control, and yes, we’ve checked it off.”

Now reading Travels With Charley

This will be my second time around for this book.  It was picked by someone in my book club to be our book for March of this year. Since I already finished our February book, I thought I’d go ahead and refresh my memory on this one.  After one day I’m already about 40% through with it.  A great read.  Steinbeck is a quality writer, and I can really tell the difference compared to some of the other stuff I’ve read lately.

This book makes me want to go on a road trip… Oh, and get a dog, too. (but not a poodle; I mean, come on…)