Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Meaningless Toil

The collection of road signs was unmissable. It's been a while since the men - and they are always men - started work on the roads around the neighbourhood! In fact I can't remember when it started nor have I any idea when it will be finished. Perhaps never. And I cannot help thinking of William Morris and his notion of meaningless toil. People must certainly be engaged in unceasing toil and sometimes only the toil seems to be the point. When will we all be able to read Plato in the morning and go fishing in the afternoon? Certainly not this week. Heracles was always labouring and often would commit a misdeed and then be condemned to perform some particularly difficult labour. The first misdeed of course was the slaying of his own children for which he had to carry out ten difficult tasks. But the one I have in mind is the cleaning of the Augean stables - in just one day. The task was humiliating for many reasons. Yet it was ultimately meaningless because the cattle there were healthy indeed and did not need much attention except for the amount of dung that they created. Heracles diverted streams to wash away the dung and in so doing his task was dismissed - because not only had the water done the job but he was paid. As with much work, you just can't win and we have to put up with a lack of acknowledgement into the bargain. So what happened when Augeas scorned the work of Heracles? Being well put out, Heracles killed Augeas. That's one version and I am not so far away from current day roadworks. At work we are often faced with what seems like meaningless toil. Somehow we have to see through instructions and frustrations to retain a strong sense of ourselves and our own tasks.