Monday, March 11, 2013

In Praise of Inefficiency

A nurse sits with a dying patient, holding her hand. She, the patient, is an elderly woman, alone in the world, far from home, having been transported down to the hospital from the far north of the state. The nurse sits there. He should be preparing medication. He should be filling in case notes. He should be checking on other patients. But he is not. He is choosing to sit with an old woman about whom no one cares, who will soon be dead anyway. How very inefficient!

An artist sits in front of an unfinished painting. She sits… and sits… and sits. There is housework to do. She should probably be “working” the social networks. She forgets an appointment with her agent. After three or four hours she works for half an hour, perhaps an hour; adds a few brush strokes here and there. It is finished. She looks upon her work, and it is good. But she is very inefficient.

A minister sits in the chapel. He should be visiting the patients in the hospital, ticking the names off the list. He should be preparing his report for the diocese. He should be attending the ward meeting on level six. But he had an argument with his wife that morning, and they parted in anger, his children witnesses. He is fuming and aching inside. He cannot face the patients, the staff, the ward meeting. He sits, breathing in what he perceives to be a healing spirit. Eventually he calls his wife. They talk, they cry, and eventually they laugh. And he is ready to face the patients, two hours behind schedule. Such inefficiency cannot be tolerated.

Brian tends to be a little slower than the other workers. It takes him longer to stack the shelves. First he has to decide what is what, and where it goes. Then he has to make sure that the items are aligned just so. This is not at all efficient.

Joe, though, is efficient. He gets the job done very quickly. It doesn’t really matter if the finish on the window frames is not quite right. It’s good enough; they won’t even notice. And he manages to clean up most of the mess. The dust on the floor over there in the corner isn’t very noticeable. He is finished with enough time to get to the next job. Enough time, not too much time. Enough time, that is, if he goes just a little bit above the speed limit. Not much, just enough.

It would be nice to live in a world with much less efficiency.

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