My father made a very good living in the 1950’s as a laundryman. For you young Passionists who don’t know what a laundryman does, he drives a truck in the city and goes from door to door picking up dirty laundry and later in the day brings it back fresh and clean. Those were the days before we all had washers and dryers in our homes. Now, not all laundrymen made "very good" livings. Most made enough to raise a family comfortably, but you had to really hustle, getting new customers to make a "very good" living.
In the early ‘50’s there were two types of laundry service. With one service, wet wash, your laundry was picked up in the morning and delivered later in the day for you to hang in the basement to dry. This was cheaper than what was called a three quarter bundle where your laundry was not only washed, it was also dried, folded, and your linens ironed. Three quarter bundles were usually delivered a day or two later. The two processes together were labor intensive and a very inefficient use of the laundry machines and personnel. The bulk of every laundry’s business was "wet wash".
The laundry owners all knew each other and recognized my father as a hustler and one who could bring in lots of new business. Two owners looking to regenerate their business took my father to lunch one day and asked if he would come to work for them. They had been losing money and had to change if they were going to survive. My father, having made these moves many times before, tried something different. He told them he would go to work for them if he could have a third of the profits and complete autonomy in running the business. The owners looked at each other and said a third of nothing is nothing and so they agreed. Then, my father told them how he planned to turn their laundry around. He would do away with the wet wash and concentrate solely on the three quarter bundle, offering all current wet wash customers the three quarter bundle service for the same price they were used to paying for wet wash. The owners could only see doom. Now they figured, they were surely going down the tubes. Eventually however, the simplification of the process not only saved the laundry, it made them a leader in the business, with all laundries quickly following suit or going out of business.
I’m not sure this has anything to do with new wineskins, but maybe so. Each new day brings new challenges and opportunities. Doing things the way we did them yesterday, using the same old wineskins to package the new day doesn’t work. Eventually the old wineskins burst and we lose all. Twelve step programs have a nice way of saying this. They define insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
Father and mother in heaven, give me the vision to recognize the activities in my life that no longer serve me and my fellows and the courage to try something new.
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.