The Value of Effort Is Self-Evident

"The work of the world is common as mud."

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Without much need for explanation, we understand the value of effort and admire it. We put examples of common hard work into museums, and we study them in classrooms. It defines who we are. I think poet and author Marge Piercy illustrated it best when she connected "work" to the basic human need to be useful.

In "To Be of Use," Piercy writes:

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

Work is what is meaningful — creating work and doing good works. The progress that is incremental is self-evident. It does not seek praise or vanity, it exists only to be useful. Piercy continues:

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

We must consistently create, and that is hard. We must consistently be useful, and that is also hard. We must take actions, that takes great effort. Luck arises from opportunities, opportunities we must create for ourselves. The harder we work, the luckier we'll get. Art doesn't happen from a stroke of a wand but from a thousand brush strokes, until we will creation from the abyss. Whether it is moving a boulder or overcoming ourselves, the magic is in the effort, not in it's ease but in the difficulty overcome. Difficulty is what makes most men and women quit — then what is magical is the person who does not.

The magic is not in the work but in the character of the worker. This is why we admire their work no matter how old it has become, to imagine what sort of person could have created this, and to ask ourselves if we are capable of the same.

We admire their effort at the task at hand. It reminds us of what it is to live and to strive to live. It is who we are as humans beings, our effort not to just try but to continually try harder and in new ways, not just for ourselves but for everyone else. And if we stumble, not only to pick ourselves up but to pick up others, to serve the needs of others, to be of use.

There is much to be learned from the age-old wisdom of work but we can't trace the outlines. To live a fulfilling life, eventually, we must add our own effort. To answer our own question: are we like them?

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