The flip side of what I was saying before is that understanding an aphorism like “Great work is never boring” depends on what we think those things mean. The problem is that this statement can lead us to believe that if we find something boring, it is therefore not great work. This misunderstanding is not just an innocent mistake, it’s a harmful one that can make people refuse the kinds of work that make “great work” truly great.
Trigger Warning: hospitals, illness, nursing, poop
Take another example: nursing. Yes, nursing can be the truly great work of healing and helping people. It can even be that one moment when you suddenly realize what’s wrong and intervene to save the life of someone who would have otherwise died, and you becoming the Shining Knight riding the great steed Adrenaline Rush all the way to self-importance.
But most of the time it’s not. I often say in a ha-ha-only-serious way that my mother is the only person I know who got a college degree so she could spend most of her time wiping butts. Even the ER isn’t always as exciting as you might imagine. While there might be a critical case that you save just in the nick of time, you’re just as likely to encounter a dog-tired nurse doing her end-of-shift documenting (now that can be boring) who looks up at you and asks “How many r’s in diarrhea?”
Misinterpreting “great work is never boring” to mean “boring stuff is not great work” leads to dissatisfaction when people set out to do great work and then are disappointingly confronted with the mundanity that makes up most of what they have to do to get there. I’d like to suggest a rephrasing that makes the aphorism clearer and potentially less harmful: Great work doesn’t have to be boring.
I believe that the trick here is not to find something that is never boring, or to find enough important moments to make the rest of it worthwhile, although that does help. The real magic here is to use the fact that it’s great work to make even the mundane tedium less boring.
I’m currently studying towards ordination, and one of my topics right now is meditating on the meanings of the Charge of the Goddess. I was struck by the line “All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.” This made me wonder – does it really mean all acts?
I had already been thinking about changing my attitude to household chores by trying to think of them as acts of love, as gifts that I give to my spouse and myself, rather than tedious annoyances that are never completed. If I remind myself that taking out recycling is part of making sure that we live in a clean, well-organized home, one in which we can better enjoy our lives, then my feelings about it change. Is it still tedious? Definitely. But it’s not as boring, if by boring I mean something that leaves me feeling annoyed that I had to do it at all.
If I take that interpretation, and I believe what the Charge of the Goddess says, it leads me to think that even humble things like dishes and laundry and scooping litter boxes are not just gifts, but also a form of devotions. They are devotions to Brigid, matron of our home, and to all aspects of the divine that are celebrated here. (After all, I can’t do ritual if the floor is covered in laundry – see previous post about logistics!) They’re still tedious, but realizing that dishes need to be done yet again doesn’t have to be a source of endless irritation; it’s an opportunity for me to engage in an act of love. (Not so much an act of pleasure – but hey, it’s an improvement.)
By redefining chores as part of the greater work of living with my family, they become less boring. So I’ll stick with the rephrasing that “great work doesn’t have to be boring.”
Now, this Witch has some litter boxes to scoop…