Two factors influenced this column and three which follow it.
The first was a little book written by author Bill Hybels titled “Axioms.” An axiom is a statement that is generally thought to be true and which is often used as a starting point for further dialogue. It comes from a Greek term meaning, “that which is thought worthy or fit” or, “that which commends itself as evident.”
In plain English an axiom is a pithy saying that is self-evident and accepted by most people to be true. Although the author of Axioms faced his own challenges later in life, most of the axioms contained in his book are incredibly insightful, often humorous and ring true to life as most of us experience it.
The second influencing factor for this mini-series of columns was an inordinate level of response to one of my own axioms. I used it as an example on the Friday Morning Roundtable hosted by Phil Johnson on his Early Edition radio show and was amazed by the number of emails I received commenting on it.
Combined, these two factors influenced me to write some of my favorite axioms. I’ve harvested them from a variety of sources over a lifetime. The first axiom emerged from countless hours seated around board room tables. Some of my colleagues and I noticed an unusual, yet incredibly common phenomenon occurring. A major action item involving complex plans, hundreds of thousands of dollars and significant risk could be on the agenda.
Yet, motions on such items often passed with very little discussion or debate. Conversely, there would occasionally appear rather insignificant items on the agenda such as the purchase of a new vacuum cleaner. There was no risk, no complexity and the cost would be a few hundred dollars.
Yet, everyone would sit up and vigorously participate in animated debate. Over time we came to label these occurrences, “the vacuum cleaner syndrome.” In the first instance, the magnitude, complexity and risk of the undertaking intimidated most people causing them to withdraw in silence and vote with the majority. When it came to buying a vacuum cleaner, however, everyone owned one and everyone had an opinion which they considered to be expert.
Hence the axiom, “Be Wary Of The Vacuum Cleaner Syndrome.” When you find you have highly charged opinions and are ready to share them at the drop of a hat with anyone who’ll listen, chances are you are offering vacuum cleaner level commentary.
More important issues typically require much more thought and reflection and result in people being somewhat more tentative in the conclusions they reach.
The Holy Scriptures have much to say about the vacuum cleaner syndrome. With some frequency they encourage us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. The ancient Proverbs say that even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips he is deemed intelligent.
Next time you find yourself in a group where everyone is loudly offering an animated opinion on the topic at hand, pay attention and do a quick evaluation. Chances are high they’re talking about vacuum cleaners.
Tim Schroeder is a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna.