Last week my wife bought a new toaster. It is a beautiful kitchen appliance with its artful balance of white and brushed metal, and a shape that would surely make it aerodynamic if it were to sprout wheels, which may yet happen. Why do I say that?
Well, when we first plugged in the toaster and fed it a piece of my wife’s lovely homemade bread, we were surprised to see a bright blue light emit from it when the knob was pushed down. We looked at each other, baffled at the utility of the blue glow that our toaster cast in our kitchen. Of course, it isn’t only our toaster that leaves us scratching our heads. I still recall our very first microwave oven. When our warmed milk was ready, a lovely “Ding!” called us to late night libation. I lost count of the number of “beebs” our latest microwave offers us. I fear buying another, wondering what will be done to outdo this senseless sting of sounds. All of which brings me to my observation: just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should do it.
Of course that insight isn’t altogether new. My mother told me it regularly as a child. Although this lesson might be lost on some designers, I think it is more relevant than ever because it seems we can do ever more things. After all doing one thing means not doing another; adding this beep means losing that silence; seeing this light means losing that soft shadow,
The question concerning what a technician should do – given what they can do – is not unrelated to the question of what a scientist should do in light of what they can do; nor is it unrelated to the question of what a politician, a bureaucrat, or a clergy person can do and what they should do. Choosing not to do something that I can do is a fascinating even if an unusual experience. We are encouraged to do whatever we can guided by the mantra of “no pain, no gain.” Yet experience teaches us that sometimes gain itself is a pain we cannot bear. There are moments in life when the most important job we have to do is to be still and wait.
Being still is an important spiritual discipline. Of course, it is not all there is to life. But it really is the condition for the possibility of living life in its richest iterations. Taking time to be is simply making time itself meaningful. To savour a second, a minute, an hour is to imbibe eternity, and so to live in Sabbath’s serenity.