Monthly Musing – April 2024 – Making an effort

When I was little and went to primary school (from age 4 to 11), we had an assembly every morning.  I can remember filing into the large hall to the sound of music from a vinyl record on a record player and sitting cross-legged on a wooden parquet floor to sing hymns accompanied by a teacher on a piano, and to listen to another teacher reading a virtuous and morally uplifting tale from a special book just for primary school assemblies.  I can also remember being quite bored by it all, but some of the tales caught my attention and I can still remember them now.

One of them was about two sculptors who were commissioned to create masterpieces for a king (there were lots of kings who lived in faraway lands in these stories).  One of them chiselled away and produced a small but perfectly carved statue which could be admired from every angle.  The other went for size, and whilst his enormous statue of the king dwarfed his competitor’s, the back of the sculpture was left as rough-hewn stone.

When questioned about it, the sculptor replied that it would be going up against a wall anyway so it didn’t matter about the back, but of course the moral of this tale was that the sculptor was lazy and if you’re going to do a job, you should do it properly so that it can be viewed and admired from every angle.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as not so small daughter is on countdown to her A Level exams which start in a few short weeks now.  She’s working hard on her revision, but she also has her place at university confirmed (she got an unconditional offer based on her portfolio, not her predicted grades) so in theory, it doesn’t matter what her grades are – or if she gets any A Levels at all!

Not so small daughter is determined to do as well as she can, though, for her own self-respect and peace of mind.  She’s not the sculptor who doesn’t finish the statue because nobody is going to look at the back, and we are proud of the way she is applying herself to the task.

It’s interesting what sticks in our mind from when we are small, isn’t it, and there’s no end of research into how our adult selves are shaped by our childhood experiences.  I understand why there was a book of morally uplifting tales at school and even from that young age, I chose to incorporate some of the values into my life, but I also think that things are not always so black and white.  Sometimes there’s a reason why we make an apparently short-cut decision that isn’t borne out of laziness but fits the circumstances of the moment – and we can probably all think of times in our lives when we have been that sculptor, reaching the end of our patience with a job and putting our tools away with a frustrated or exhausted “that’ll do” and congratulating ourselves on a job well done!

Rather than passing judgement on the sculptors and aspiring to be the “better” one, I prefer to think that we are a blend of them both and sometimes an illusion of perfection is good enough.  Or perhaps I would say that as there are no half-finished statues of me to be leant against any walls!


A white marble statue on a mottled marble stand. The statue is of a female, possible Aphrodite, and has no arms.

Venus de Milo at the Louvre, Paris. Perfection – or unfinished?


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