Originally published on October 5, 2017
I was asking my son Nolan about how he’s enjoying school these days. Since he’s a stereotypical middle school boy, getting him to talk to me is sometimes challenging, so I find myself asking him some very survey-like questions. For example, I asked him last week, “Tell me three things that you like about school.” One of the things he told me was that he liked PE. I asked him what he was doing in PE and he told me that they were going to start flag football but in their last class they just had to run a mile. Since I’ve taken up running, that caught my attention.
Me: Why did you have to run a mile?
Nolan: I don’t know.
Me: Do you run a mile every class?
Nolan: No. Just that one time.
Me: Huh. Well, how’d you do?
Nolan: I ran the 4th fastest.
Me: In your class?
Nolan: No. In the grade.
Me: Wait. What?! In the grade? You mean, of all of the sixth grade kids in the whole school, there were only three kids who were faster than you?
Me: In the whole school?
Nolan: Not the whole school, but the whole grade.
Me: So how fast did you run the mile?
Nolan: 7 minutes, 22 seconds.
Me: Wow! That’s great! How fast was the fastest kid in your grade?
Nolan: Like a minute faster than me. Like 6 minutes, 20 seconds.
Me: Holy smokes! That’s really fast! How fast were the students who got second and third?
Nolan: I can’t remember how fast the kid who got second ran, but it was over 7 minutes. Josh ran the third fastest. He only beat me by like 1 or 2 seconds.
Me: Really. Josh who you play soccer with?
Nolan: Yes. But we aren’t in the same class.
Me: Oh. So how do you know his time?
Nolan: There’s a board with the times. You have to run a mile in under 10 minutes to get your name on the board.
Me: Under 10 minutes? I could get my name on the board! I’m faster than some middle schoolers. Hey, if you knew when you were running that Josh was going to beat your time and all you’d have to do was run just a little bit faster to be third, would you have run a little bit faster?
This made me think about the concept of 212 degrees. I’m sure you recognize that 212 degrees Fahrenheit is the boiling point of water. However, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the 212 degrees philosophy (here’s a 4 minute video on this concept). Using the temperature of boiling water as a metaphor, 212 degrees notes that “At 211 degrees water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water comes steam. And with steam, you can power a train.” It’s the notion that one extra degree of effort can make all the difference.
Applying one extra degree of temperature to water means the difference between something that is simply very hot and something that generates enough force to power a machine—a beautifully uncomplicated metaphor that ideally should feed our extra endeavor—consistently pushing us to make the extra effort in every task, action and effort we undertake. Two-twelve serves as a forceful drill sergeant with its motivating and focused message while adhering to a scientific law—a natural law. It reminds us that seemingly small things can make tremendous differences.” (Samuel Parker, 212°: the extra degree, p. 3)
It doesn’t matter if Nolan runs the mile the 4th fastest in his grade or if he comes in first or last. The point is, does his outcome demonstrate his best or does it demonstrate that with a little bit more, a lot more was possible. Often we feel like we are doing our best and my guess is that with just a small increase in effort, the outcome could be exponentially greater. In other words, if sometimes we don’t need a buck to get the bang, we only need a penny.