Reprinted from The Reader’s Digest under the title, Proverbial Nonsense, in the April 1951 issue.
Too many ancient proverbs, masquerading as wisdom, have achieved a moral authority greater than that of the Ten Commandments. I am out to combat their deleterious effects. Take the adage “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well.” Nonsense. There are a hundred things that are worth doing, provided you don’t bother about doing them well. If you try for perfection, you lose your amateur standing — a priceless boon — and become a tiresome professional.
I know a man who gave up golf because some ancient fool said, “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” He should have stood on his rights and pointed out the undebatable truth that the man who doesn’t play golf well gets twice as much fun and exercise as the man who plays very well; he hits the ball twice as many times.
Is there any torture worse than to play contract bridge with three eager beavers who insist on doing it well? Can’t a person relax playing bridge?
The false authority of this old wheeze is partly responsible for the disappearance of the active voice from a large part of American life. Too many people have traded their birthright as active performers for a mess of pottage— watching professionals who “do it well.” We see this clearly in music. I forget who it was that said what America needed was “more poor music.” He meant that we need more music in the home created on the spot for the sheer fun of it. More music made by Bill, Fred and Mabel, not by Decca, Victor and Columbia.
But because of an old wives’ fable, we have traded all the bounce and gladness of doing something for the sodden inertia of looking at something or listening to something.