In the morning sow your seed,
And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
For you do not know which will prosper,
Either this or that,
Or whether both alike will be good.
ONE OF LIFE’S GREAT DISCOURAGEMENTS IS THE THOUGHT THAT IT “WON’T DO ANY GOOD” TO DO WHAT WE ARE THINKING OF DOING. In some situations, we can’t decide which of two actions would be the most effective. At other times, it looks as if nothing we might try to do would make any difference. So we do nothing.
But too often, our decision process is the reverse of what it should be. Rather than deciding up front what is right to do, based on timeless principles, we try to predict the result of an action, and then define what is “right” in terms of what we think will “work” the best. More often than we’d care to admit, we adopt the philosophy of “utilitarianism,” the idea that the value of an action is determined by its utility or usefulness. If it looks like it “won’t do any good,” then we think nothing more needs to be said.
But in fact, there is a good deal more that needs to be said. What is right is right, whether we think it’s useful or not. And not only that, it is often honorable to begin a work even when no hope has been vouchsafed to us that we’ll be able to finish it.
The “crystal ball” is a notoriously unreliable device, and none of us has one that works very well. As creatures unable to see more than a few hours ahead, we are poor prognosticators. Even our best and most carefully considered predictions often turn out to be wrong. To be more specific, things that were right to do often turn out to do more good than we could have ever anticipated.
So we should just put away our forecasts and our predictions and go ahead and do whatever is the best thing we’re capable of doing at any moment. We must be guided by conscience and the knowledge that it always “does good to do good” — whether we can see how it’s going to happen or not. The advice of Ecclesiastes 11:1 is mighty good counsel: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” If we keep busy doing the best we know to do, we need not doubt that good will come of it.
“It is for us to make the effort. The result is always in God’s hands” (Mahatma Gandhi).