Work Smart, Not Hard

A fellow activist, who works diligently to promote urban tree-planting, just sent out an email to let people know there are grants available to assist with replacing historic oak trees that have been lost to hurricanes or other causes. He attached a document with a list of government agencies. While I am all for any mechanism, department, organization, etc., that promotes tree-planting, it strikes me that this approach is a lot of work. Finding the right grant, filling out the application, waiting to hear back.

Meanwhile, the ironic thing is, baby oak trees can almost always be found growing in profusion underneath the mama oak. We just don’t always see them because they get mowed down as part of routine landscaping maintenance.

All we need to do in order to have an infinite chain of successors to old oaks, for free and with little or no work, is quit mowing underneath big oak trees, and let the fallen leaves accumulate there as mulch. The baby sprouts will turn into saplings; some will emerge larger and stronger; and then, sometime after the mother tree eventually dies, one of the young ones will become the next big oak.

Our dominant culture seems to specialize in creating solutions that are a lot of work, for problems we never should have had in the first place. But there’s a vast storehouse of wisdom available to us from other times, other cultures, if we just tune in.

One of my favorite maxims is, “Work smart, not hard.” I learned it in permaculture design class, and it helped me feel less guilty about being what I always thought of as a lazy person. Turns out I’m not lazy; I just have an extreme aversion to what I see as unnecessary work.

One of my permaculture teachers told us that unnecessary work is a form of pollution. When I thought about it, I found multiple layers of truth in this statement.

• Unnecessary work costs money, burns fossil fuels (even if it’s just the food-energy required to perform a manual task)

• Unnecessary work has an opportunity cost of human energy and attention: What worthwhile task might have been accomplished with the time and attention that was spent needlessly mowing under the oak tree, raking/blowing the leaves?

• Unnecessary work is self-perpetuating: Performed by government departments and other authorities of mainstream culture, it becomes normalized as “the correct practice”

• Unnecessary work hijacks creativity and imagination that we need right now to create and manifest a vision for a greener, more compassionate world

Can you think of some other ways in which unnecessary work is a form of pollution? And, looking at the example of the mother oak and seedlings, what other examples do you notice around you, of nature doing the heavy lifting and providing us with what we want and need, for little or no effort on our part?