The War and Peace Conundrum

By February 5, 2016Uncategorized

Every now and again I get a sort of epiphany moment, where I realise an assumption I’ve held has made no sense whatsoever. Sometimes, there’s been a nagging doubt that something doesn’t make sense (like we lose most of our body heat through our heads, or standing in your stirrups takes the weight off the horse’s back), and other times we realise we didn’t question a very basic premise.

Now, War and Peace is on the television at the moment, and Adam and I have been really enjoying watching it, particularly as we haven’t watched anything like this together for years. The kids are a bit older, though, and these things are easier. Adam read it a while back, and loved it, raved about it, and insinuated that he would love it if I read it, but I can’t cope with heavy books, it puts too much strain on my wrists and thumbs (because I like to read lying on my side, and I know I could read sitting up, but I don’t), and that particular translation wasn’t available on Kindle. It is now, though, and I am also loving reading it, but doing so has thrown up an insight (beyond the 1812 war).

It’s this: people often say that War and Peace is too long. I myself may have said so. But I enjoy reading. I expect I will read every day for the rest of my life, which I hope can be measured in decades. If I knew I were going to die tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t devote much of my remaining time to reading, but supposing that I don’t, how many more reading hours have I got left to me? More than enough to read even such a very long book.

Of course, people don’t really mean that the book is too long for their lifespan, but what do they mean?

If it’s “I’m not really interested in that subject”, or “I tried it once and I didn’t really like the writing style” that’s something different. That’s a “life is too short to spend it doing something you don’t want to” type of thing, an unwillingness to invest that much time in something that doesn’t appeal. As I’ve got older, I’m happier to “give up” on a book if I’m not getting something out of reading it. But I suspect for many of us it isn’t actually that, it’s something about being over-faced. After all, in comparison to one really long book,  slimmer volumes are easier bite-sized chunks. I believe there are many books in Terry Pratchett’s Disc World series, and added together they would be many War and Peaces, and yet they are an easier undertaking for most people.

It make me think about how many other things we don’t start because they seem like such insurmountable tasks. And yet, if we had started them and done even just a few minutes a day, we could be well on our way to mastering a new skill, playing an instrument,  making a new thing, being fitter or whatever. Knitting is very much like this, I feel, and epitomises the way that simple, small steps all add up to something amazing (potentially. Knitting also epitomises the value of ripping things out and starting again, sometimes, but we won’t go there).  There seems to be an increasing appreciation for the cumulative effects of our actions, the understanding that even ten minutes a day doing something adds up to more than an hour a week, which  is significantly more than people often do when they are more “all or nothing” about it. Of course, many things benefit from having bigger chunks of time thrown at them, and sometimes it is better to do longer sessions less often than briefer sessions more frequently. If you and your horse need half an hour to warm up, two 25 minute sessions are going to be less productive than one 50 minute session. Often, we like decent chunks of time to get our teeth into something. Finding ways to fit activities into your life has to suit you, and those you share your life with, and it can be worth experimenting with different ways of doing things, but it is almost certainly the case that if you don’t spend any time doing something, you won’t get it done. (Getting someone else to do it can be a good thing, of course, but delegation is not really what we’re talking about here.)

Is there something you would like to do, a skill you would like to learn, that is “too big”? Is there a way you could break it down into smaller chunks and just get started? Do you tend to over- or under-estimate how long something will take? Are you reaping the benefits of time you’ve already invested in something?

(If you’re looking for some reading material, may I suggest “War and Peace”? It’s very readable, and they estimate that the average person reads it in about 30 hours. I would have expected it to be more like 100.)

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