There is an old Irish story about two lumberjacks. One was huge, muscular, and used a big axe. The other was much smaller, but more efficient with each swing of the axe, utilizing a more surgical approach. Each of the men far surpassed all of the other lumberjacks in the area in terms of the amount of land they could clear.
Soon a debate began to sweep the countryside. Which lumberjack was the best? There was only one way to settle the matter. The two champion lumberjacks squared off in a contest. The one who cut down the most trees by sundown would win.
At dawn both men began. The large man also had great stamina. He chopped as hard as he could, hour after hour. He didn’t stop a single time all day long.
The smaller man used a different approach. He stopped every hour to rest his arms and sharpen his axe.
At sunset, the judges counted the cut trees. The smaller man had won.
The moral, of course, is that we are more apt to succeed if we take the necessary time to improve ourselves and the equipment we use.
Abraham Lincoln subscribed to this wisdom. He said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” argues that “sharpening the saw” is the seventh of those habits. He urges that we take time to renew ourselves—physically, spiritually, mentally and socially.
I just returned from Jekyll Island where the prosecutors of Georgia had gathered for our continuing legal education. Next week the judges will go to St. Simons Island for theirs. All lawyers are required to attend 12 hours each year of training in order to retain our licenses to practice law.
It’s a good rule. Without it, I would probably be like the big lumberjack. My axe would be pretty dull by now.
I’ve learned to temper my expectations at seminars. You can’t expect each topic to revolutionize your life. If you leave with one or two new insights or ideas to improve your proficiency, the seminar was a success.
This year I came away with some ideas about how I can improve as an administrator. And, I picked up some medical information about strangulation that should help me in a couple of weeks in a murder trial.
What about you? Have you sharpened the saw lately? If not, maybe you should go browsing at a bookstore or online for new material to read. Or renew a neglected friendship. Crack open the Bible or visit a church to enlighten your spirit. Or maybe it’s time to start taking those early morning walks around the neighborhood and to become more intelligent about what you eat.
If you’re like me, there’s too much wood to cut to be swinging a dull axe.
Scott Ballard is the District Attorney for the Griffin Judicial Circuit.