“However much thou art read in theory, if thou hast no practice thou art ignorant” (Saadi).
THEORY AND PRACTICE. Both of these are important, but most of us have a natural inclination in the direction of one or the other. George Bernard Shaw described the difference this way: “Practical men know where they are, but not always whither they are going; thinkers know whither we are going, but not always where we are.” The truth is, we need both the thinkers and the doers in the world, but for today’s meditation, let’s put some emphasis on practicality: the carrying out of our principles and theories in real-life situations.
For one thing, we’re not very smart if all we know is theory. As Saadi said, “However much thou art read in theory, if thou hast no practice thou art ignorant.” Judged by this standard — that of our actual doing — we may be more ignorant than we’d like to think.
But not only that, practicality is a great clarifier of our thinking. In the realm of theory, truth and falsehood are frequently mixed together in such a way that it’s hard to distinguish which is which. But when we take our theories off the drawing board and put them into daily practice, falsehood and unreality are usually exposed. In the short term, error may appear to be effective, but in the long run, it always fails the test of practicality. As Thomas Carlyle said, “Once we turn to practice, error and truth will no longer consort together.”
If we want to make a worthy contribution to the world, we must learn the habit of practicality. Ideas are certainly important, for it is the quality of our ideas that determines the effectiveness of our actions, but ideas alone won’t help our friends and neighbors. It’s when our ideas become practical (in other words, when we “practice what we preach”) people are helped and burdens are lifted.
So I encourage you to be a more practical person. Think carefully about what is right, but having considered the rightness of your ideas, go ahead and put them into practice. And when practice indicates that some of your theories need correction, by all means correct them. Be a good thinker, but don’t just think. Pay attention to practicality.
“The world is sown with good; but unless I turn my glad thoughts into practical living and till my own field, I cannot reap a kernel of the good” (Helen Keller).