We don’t have a very large garden , just a double row of shrubs outside our front porch. But, no matter the size of a garden, there are always weeds; yesterday, I was involved with the chore of removing them. The weather was great for gardening – sunny with a slight breeze – and I stuck to the job until I thought I was done. When I stepped back and surveyed my work, however, I saw that there were still some dried leaves tangled in the bottoms of the shrubs. Determined to do a perfect job, I bent to my task again. Ten or fifteen minutes later, confident I’d gotten every last weed and dead leaf, I surveyed my handiwork… and saw that I had still missed a few in the back.
About this time I remembered a book by David Viscott, a psychologist, the first chapter of which describes his experience weeding his vegetable patch. Every time he ” finished” the job he noted that there were still some weeds he had missed. Viewing the field from a different angle, or a different angle at which the sun hit it caused him to see it in a different light and to note what more had to be done to complete the task , to get every last weed. I don’t know the lesson that Viscott got from his experience but I know what I learnt ..Never strive for perfection in every task, particularly those mundane tasks where perfection is not critical.
Weeding involves a lot of bending and, until yesterday, I’d never realized the effort that it entails. I must have spent perhaps 30 minutes bending over and, let me tell you, my back hurt. I began to appreciate those who spent most of their day hunched over; people like rice farmers, the women and men who transplant rice seedlings hour after hour, day after day while standing ankle deep in cold water. We, who are fortunate to have ( or to have had) white collar jobs do not often consider what it is like to do a repetitive physical job; or how little such jobs pay now that the higher paying manufacturing work has been outsourced abroad. Aside from the low pay, there is the sheer boredom caused by such work. In the film Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin is an assembly line worker whose sole job is to tighten nuts with the help of two big spanners, one in each hand. When he leaves the factory at the end of the work day, still carrying the spanners he comes across a pretty girl whose dress has two large decorations that look like nuts. They are strategically placed on the front of her dress and you can imagine the rest…. she flies screaming as Charlie goes after her with the spanners.
Even the act of standing throughout an 8- hour shift demands a lot. The girls at the checkout counters, the sales girls at the cosmetics counters in department stores, the post office workers who sell stamps and other sundries, are all stressed in ways we cannot imagine. Yes, we white collar workers are lucky.
While I was weeding, I glanced over at my neighbor’s garden. Not for him, the basic shrubbery that comes with the house. He recently hired a landscaper and completely re-did his garden. All in all, he now has more than 40 plants and shrubs, including two hydrangeas and four rose bushes. There are also two trees. The garden looks very nice now but I wonder what will happen with time. You see, my friend put in the garden because he very much admired his cousin’s garden and wanted to emulate it. The trouble with gardens is that they demand a lot of work. the weeds have to be removed, the bushes pruned , the mulch beds redone, and the plants watered if it does not rain for a few days or if it is very hot. It is a never-ending job and , if one doesn’t enjoy doing it, it can be a burden. My friend has never really gardened so he will probably have to hire a gardening service. A bigger problem is how the garden will look when the trees and shrubs have grown. They have been planted pretty close to each other and , in a short time, the garden will look overgrown in spite of all the pruning . No, I don’t envy my friend his garden. Several things come to mind: Too much of a good thing is bad is one . Another is Less is more.