What a Waste

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | May 21, 2011

"Anything that is wasted effort represents wasted time. The best management of our time thus becomes linked inseparably with the best utilization of our efforts."
Ted W. Engstrom

How sad it is to watch a gifted athlete squander through undisciplined living during the brief time when he is at the top of his game. How sad it is to watch a young person squander her entire life through serious criminal activity. How sad it is to talk to an old man or old woman who, when looking back over his/her life, realize they gave their life to numberless causes that did not really matter. 

When we ponder such sadness we often exclaim, "What a waste!" Waste can come in all shapes and sizes. It can be life-altering, cataclysmic waste or it can be the incremental stuff of everyday life. But no matter what the size or amount of our waste, once it is gone it is gone forever. 

Have you ever been to a yard sale? Toys and appliances and clothing and tools are on their way from one place to another. Much of this stuff of the community marketplace once held great meaning and value. Sometimes when I walk among the bargains, I wonder how many of them were needed in the first place. Sometimes I wonder if we realize today as we try to get rid of them what a waste they were when we acquired them. We may have even spent a lot of money for them because at the time we just had to have them. 

I remember someone who took on a project to make decorative pillows. He bought the material. He bought the stuffing. He bought the designs. He was ready to make and sell scores of them. But after making just a few, his motivation died and the materials literally did become fodder for another yard sale. 

It's easy to see someone else's waste. But to identify our own is another matter. But as time goes by, even we can see our own. I guess that's what Muhammad Ali meant when he said, "The man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life." 

Evie and I still remember that persuasive salesman who came to us around the time our first son was born. He spoke to our deep desire to have an educated child and what good parents he knew we wanted to be. We were easy prey because we wanted so much to do what was right. Even though we couldn't really afford it, he convinced us how much we needed that encyclopedia set. "You will not regret it," he told us. 

By the time our son could read it, the content was already outdated. But we certainly felt at the time we were doing the right thing. What a waste! 

We can find a way to waste just about any resource which has been entrusted to us. We can throw away the permanent for the temporary, the valuable for the meaningless, and we can throw away the best for the good. Someone said they wish they could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw at them all of their wasted resources. What a treasure that would be. 

Gian Carlo Menotti once said, "Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do." 

We live in a day when we are challenged to recycle everything from sports equipment to tires, and from paper to plastic. And we should, if we can. 

But I also think Elizabeth Kubler-Ross understood something important when she said, "Live so you do not have to look back and say: 'God, how I have wasted my life.'" 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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