Friday, September 12, 2008

About quotes and judgement

"The sweat of hard work is not to be displayed. It is much more graceful to appear favored by the gods."
-- Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, 1976

Graceful, perhaps, but won't it give young hopefuls the impression that they can do what you do without any heard work?

Of course, probably this is a quote not from Ms Kingston herself, but from one of the characters in her book. This means that perhaps it's not a reflection of the beliefs of the author. I think one might want to be careful with this.

Stephen Fry once attacked with great rancor the people quoting from Hamlet: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be". He pointed out that this was stated not by Shakespeare but by the character Polonius, who was a bit of a fool in Fry's opinion.

Of course another problem is that foolish things may be stated by wise people, and vice versa. Not to mention that adjudicating what's foolish and what's wise is something I find more and more difficult the more I mature. I actually suspect that letting go of judgement as much as possible may be the wisest course of all.

For example, the very same "neither a borrower nor a lender be" statement... Indeed I have been in trouble as both a lender and a borrower. I have quite big amounts of money out there which I'm not at all certain I'll ever see again. However, to learn from this that loaning or borrowing should never happen? I just don't see how the world would do without that, the way it's set up currently. Just for one thing, almost nobody would be able to buy a home or start a business.

I guess one has to just rely on case-by-case judgement and not on blanket policies.

1 comment:

Cliff Prince said...

Though I understand the suggestion, and in fact generally agree with it, I'd like to point out that sometimes you don't get favored for showing hard work. I experienced that reversal in my first stint in graduate school. By demonstrating that I was "really willing to put in the full necessary effort," rather than showing off a la Kingston that I could just do the research "naturally" and that it was "fun" or "easy," I ended up with negative consequences. I thought I was showing due diligence; I was read as lacking competence.

Beware how you try to show off. It's generally not likely that you'll make the impression you want. Do what you like and are good at merely because you're good at it and you like it. Don't expect extra credit from people in power over you EITHER for appearing "favored by the gods" or for appearing to give "hard work."