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Viola Ruffner and NYC Police

I’ve been thinking more about Viola Ruffner, Booker T. Washington’s high-expectation-employer turned forever friend. I think there are some similarities between her and the NYC Police. Here’s what I mean.

First, some background on Viola. She had a reputation as being a very difficult, demanding employer. So much so, that she had a hard time keeping hired help. She was just too stern, picky, demanding… After Emancipation, Booker T. was hired as the Ruffner’s houseboy.

As expected, in the beginning Viola would inspect Booker’s work and would usually send him back to do it over again, and sometimes yet again. At some point, when weeding the garden, Booker paused before calling Viola to inspect his work…and instead he decided to first do his own inspection.

He decided he’d better keep working.

He did a couple of rounds of this, and when she finally did come to inspect, she found no complaint.

Booker credits Viola with teaching him some of life’s most valuable lessons: diligence, hard work, faithfulness, honesty. She and her husband became supporters of Washington’s work, and Viola and Booker were lifelong friends. (The Ruffner and Washington families are still friends and had a reunion as recently as 2002.)

Now, what does Viola Ruffner have in common with the New York City police?

Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point? He has a section on the rampant, violent crime that was prevalent in the Big Apple in the 80’s. Crime rates dropped dramatically when the police established a no tolerance plan against subway turn-stile violators. By taking a firm stance against small infractions, overall crime – especially violent crime – greatly diminished.

By sending a clear message about the little things, a message was also sent about the large things.

I wonder if Viola Ruffner’s principles are not the same. Expecting faithfulness in the small things brings faithfulness in the large things as well. “He who is faithful in a very little thing, is faithful also in much.”

Viola Ruffner Wanna-Be

My kids won’t appreciate it — at least not for a while. But my aim is to become a Viola Ruffner to them.

Booker T. Washington credits Viola Ruffner for instilling in him the work ethic for which he is famous. Upon being freed from slavery, Washington held a few different manual labor jobs, primarily working in mines. Determined to do something better, he was hired as the houseboy of Viola Ruffner who was known for being able to keep only temporary help because of her high demands and expectations.

Washington lived with the Ruffners and worked for Viola for a year and a half, and in that time was instilled with a deep appreciation for hard work, a job well done, and honesty. He claims that after being in her charge, whenever he saw a broken gate, he wanted to mend it. When he saw trash, he wanted to pick it up. When he saw weeds, he wanted to pull them. (Now, I’m not really after that result with my kids – just some thoroughness in tasks around the house.)

Mrs. Ruffner encouraged Washington to further his education, was one of his benefactors, and he held her in extreme respect, calling her “one of the best friends I ever had.”

I want to be a Viola Ruffner for my kids. (They’ll cringe when they read this post, but they know I love them.) I’m terrible with follow-through on chores I give them to do, and I fear I’m letting them get away with half-baked work. My becoming a Viola Ruffner would be good for all of us.

But how am I going to become a Viola Ruffner? I think I should start with one task and hone it, hone it. I’m thinking of going for the jugular: kitchen clean-up. I have this rule in the house — whoever makes a meal shouldn’t have to clean up. (There is a lot of gray here, because in truth, many meals are partially prepared days in advance – bread, lacto-fermented items, etc. But the person assembling the meal doesn’t have to clean the dishes or put left-overs away.)

While it’s true that the kids are in the mode of handling clean up in the kitchen, it is almost never up to my standards, but I say nothing. Nothing. Isn’t that they’re doing it enough? Well, for a while that was enough. But now that the work routine is in place, the mechanics are lacking. Sorely lacking.

So now I’m thinking about inspections, checklists, points, etc. What incentive to give for them to get it right the first time. Speak to me, Viola!

What about you? Do you have a system for follow-up of daily chores? Do you spot check? Have a check list? Is it working for you?

I’m off to make a checklist of frequently neglected jobs associated with kitchen clean-up.

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