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Useful And Fantastic: Waste Of Effort

"How did the Victorians of the 19th century manage to get so much done? Because they did. So many of them had the energy to fill every minute of every day with what they believed were 'Good Works' - and often they were,'' writes Val Yule.

If, as is often believed, nothing completely disappears, so is there a parallel universe where all our wasted effort ends up?

The tempting answer, when there is anything needing to be done, is that it will be a waste of time trying to do anything. What's the use?

And so freedoms go, islands, sink, terrible things happen.

Could we have stopped them? Often not. Struggles have been in vain.

I'm trying to find an argument that it is worthwhile keeping up a struggle that may seem hopeless. Trying to find one way if another way isn't working. Perhaps one in a hundred ideas for inventions will work. One in a hundred of the hours spent trying to do something worthwhile will achieve something.

Yes, say the Sit-Stills, and look at all the bad things done that Seemed a Good Idea at the Time. You clear out all the weeds—and worse weeds have a chance to come in.

You—or others—may work hard to free up trade—and find that locals cannot compete without cutting wages. The answer here is, surely, to think beforehand of what possible consequences might result from your good efforts.

Give goats to poor people living in semi-deserts? Was it goats that have made that semi-desert anyway? Wells dug to give water may bring up arsenic, if the quality of the groundwater is not checked beforehand.

Just as bad for Waste of Effort is what happens during that effort.

Computers conspire to crash and take your back-ups with them. The roof leaks on your work. Somebody loses it.

That is minor—the greater waste of effort is the opposition of people who oppose because that is the easiest thing to do. As McAuliffe's Ockatoo in the November issue of Bonzer! squashes the Optimists Club because 'It will never work'.

It is natural when a new idea comes up to first think of how it won't work; it would be even better if it were natural for first thought to be for how it might. I am putting together a manuscript of People They Laughed At. Chart how long it took most of their ideas and campaigns to get anywhere from Go to Whoa. Pretty dismal charts they make. Often, ideas wait until the author is safely dead before they can be picked up.

How did the Victorians of the 19th century manage to get so much done? Because they did. So many of them had the energy to fill every minute of every day with what they believed were 'Good Works' - and often they were. All sorts of inspiration kept them going. Examples held up to the children's eyes of Noble Works, spiritual inspiration, and clouds and clouds of poetry and doggerel verses and songs that urged them 'Onward through the night'. Longfellow, Tennyson, Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Going further back, George Herbert finding value in a well-swept room. Every drop helps. 'Excelsior!' because the mountain is there. Say not the struggle naught availeth. Vitae Lampada and Play the Game. Kipling's If … You'll be a man, my son. Footsteps in the sands of time, and let the tide come in when it will.

I'm not sure if there are comparable modern poets. Pam Ayres?

Should there be?

So many millions of people spend far too much of their lives in efforts to do what they know is not worthwhile: futile jobs, stupid tasks. So many hundreds of thousands in futile efforts because for many reasons they are incompetent—yet they need not be.

So many people spending their youth training for sports that they will never star in at the high level they aim for.

At least, wasted efforts in the sporting games of life are not so boring as just spending days going up and down or round and round.

The Romans had three words for it: Nil illegitimi carborundum. Do not let the bastards get you down. (And, says the cynic, they're all dead now.)

If you look back and brood over so much wasted arduous trekking that need not have been wasted, you are like that famous Parliamentarian (reported to have been in every Parliament) who ordered us all to 'March firmly into the future with our eyes fixed firmly on the achievements of the past.' He was the one who also declared 'I smell a rat. I see it hovering in the air. But I will nip it in the bud.'

A laugh is never wasted.

© Valerie Yule


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