Never reward blind effort

Over the past year and a half, I took a series of notes on my practice. I gathered those in various documents, shuffled them around, and merged in older thoughts and reflections. Lockdown #6 was an opportunity to bring all this to shape. I am now sharing those thoughts as a series, forming a sort of mosaic on my work, and what has been driving it.

When I taught English at University, back in France, we would have a meeting at the end of each term to discuss borderline students. ‘Oh, but they’re working really hard’, one of my colleagues would say, to justify lifting the mark. And I would reply ‘Well, if they’re working hard and that’s the result, all the more reason to fail them.’

Embarrassed laughter, and the mark would eventually be lifted. Yet I made my point seriously. Is it ethical to reward effort, irrespective of consequences? Or should we fight our bias towards action, and properly value the art of doing nothing, and feeling satisfied by it?

By contrast, when I was working in government policy, I once heard a precious piece of wisdom from a colleague. ‘When you’re doing work,’ they said, ‘there’s three types of things you can achieve. You can contribute to the goal. You can sit and do nothing. Or you can flap around and stand in the way. So, if you think maybe you’re not able to contribute, better go surf the web.’

Should we be fully rational, encourage doing nothing, and punish misdirected effort? At least, this might help us shift our collective mindset, and better appreciate the worth of anything that saves energy.