Wisdom Story – 17

CathedralFrom our old friend Margaret Silf:

During the Middle Ages, a traveller once came upon a place in France where a great deal of building work was going on. He began to talk with the stone cutters and asking them about their work.

He approached the first worker and asked, “What are you doing?”  The man, very disgruntled and obviously unhappy in his hard toil, replied, “I’m cutting these huge boulders with the simplest of tools and putting them together in the way I’ve been told to do. I’m sweating in this heat and my back is hurting. What’s more, I’m totally bored and I wish I didn’t have to do this hard and meaningless job.”

The traveller moved on quickly to interview a second worker. He asked the same question: “What are you doing?”  The worker replied, “Well, I have a wife and children at home, so I come here every morning and I work these boulders into regular shapes, as I’m told to do. It gets repetitive sometimes, but it helps to feed my family and that’s all I want.”

Somewhat encouraged, the traveller went on to a third worker and asked, “And what are you doing?”

The third worker responded with shining eyes, as he pointed up to the heavens, “I’m building a cathedral!”

[Source: http://wellsprings.com.sg/web/archives/584]


  1. Eric says

    As everything I do becomes noticeably more difficult week by week, I wonder why I just don’t say I am too sick and give up. I continue because during these final months God has called me to serve God’s beloved as a priest. God will tell me when it is time to stop, and participate in eternal life in a different way.

  2. Cathy says

    I always have mixed feelings about stories like this.

    On the one hand, I can see that it is better to be positive and to look for what is valuable in your work. On the other hand, to me it seems terrible that so many people spend much of their lives doing work that is meaningless to them and that often doesn’t use their real talents, in order to just make a living. In fact, I think it is a form of social injustice. People would not only be happier, but would contribute more to society, if they were able to do something that made use of their gifts and talents, or if they were able to put more time and energy into their role as parents, or other family or community roles.

    Maybe I just expect too much out of life!

  3. Helen says

    This story caused me to ponder a lot. How often do we see some controlling boss pushing his/ her ways on those who work for them! Many workers ‘accept these injustice’ because of family obligations, or lack of alternatives, especially in today’s economy. Then, I thought perhaps these subordinates need skills to persuade their boss to change his /her mind and become aware of the wrong doings… Wow, that would be great. Happy endings. Yet, life is not that fair and balanced. I am also remindeded from time to time the phrase ‘love conquers’. Does that always work? Probably not. It seems that there are two groups of people: the ones with power and the ones without. I guess for the ones without, it’s a matter of how to deal with the external painful situations with internal strength, if possible.

  4. Paul says


    Applying it, or anything else, to mundane tasks such as doing the laundry is what it’s all about, isn’t it?


  5. Paul says


    How true – keep the eye and the heart focused on the important is our daily task, and it isn’t an easy one (at least for me.)


  6. Paul says


    My heart goes out to you. This morning in CVS as I was buying toothpaste, the clerk asked me if I’d like to make a donation. I immediately brushed her aside (my responsibility isn’t to make giant corporations look good for “their” charitable endeavors) and then I heard it was for Lou Gehrig’s Disease research and I hastily changed my mind.

    Know that I and many others are learning valuable lessons of love from how you are responding to this awful disease. I don’t know if it can be any consolation to you, but you have become the major Wisdom figure in my life.


  7. Paul says


    There is nothing wrong about “expecting too much out of life.” I think Margaret was trying to make a point about how important it is that we have a positive attitude about whatever it is we’re doing, but that doesn’t take away from your argument that way too many people eke out their lives in appalling circumstances and we have to address issues of social justice with clear eyes and a determined spirit.


  8. Paul says


    I am uncomfortably aware that I am among those “with power” and what I say and do can have real and lasting impacts upon those without power. I hope and pray that I/we (at the Press) are compassionate and considerate in all our dealings with employees but, as Cathy mentions in her comment, too many people spend their lives doing “meaningless work.”

    I have no good answer to the points that she and you raise, but I know that it is good to live with the discomfort.


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