I recently was reading the book, “All the Light We Cannot See”, by Anthony Doerr. I highly recommend this Pulitzer Prize winner. In it I found an answer to the question “Is It Worth It?” that I pose in my book of the same name. That answer may lie in the amount of impact we have with each of our actions.
Book cover excerpt: “From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.”
The Blind Girl: When Maurie-Laure goes blind at the age of six, her father builds a miniature replica of her Paris neighborhood. His hope is that she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home alone. When she was twelve, the Nazis occupied Paris. This forces her father and her to flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo to live with her reclusive uncle.
The German Boy: Werner and his sister are orphans growing up in a mining town in Germany. They become enchanted by a crude radio they find. At first it doesn’t work, but over time Werner is able to fix it. In the process, he learns a lot about radios, which will serve him well in the war. When he finally gets the radio to work, the first thing he hears is the music of a violin. He is thrilled.
The mining town he lives in is bleak and dirty. This music is a welcomed respite. He hears the voice of a Frenchman talking about a world full of light and where that light comes from – without and within. At the end of each talk, the Frenchman plays some beautiful music.
All of this captures Werner’s imagination, getting him to think of what he could do with his life. In time, Werner is sent to a Nazi school, becoming an expert with radios. With his expertise, he is then stationed in Saint-Malo to capture the French.
In Saint-Malo, Maurie-Laure’s uncle, Etienne, helps with the French resistance, transmitting messages over his radio on various frequencies, hoping someone out there can come to their rescue. In the tradition of his father, he would play a little music for those listening. When Maurie-Laure’s uncle is taken prisoner, she continues in his place, reading and playing music, not knowing who is hearing.
Was It Worth The Risk?
You could ask whether it was worth the risk Maurie-Laure and her uncle were taking. By using a radio, they could be found by the Nazis and the inevitable death that would follow. Yet, their singular act brought comfort to whomever might be tuned in, just as it did with Werner as a child.
Maurie-Laure and Werner are on opposing sides, but are no different in their need for a sense of peace, especially in a time of war.
Return On Investment (or ROI)
Often we make a decision based on the ROI or return-on-investment of our efforts. What is our ROI of gestures that are never acknowledged, such as Maurie-Laure and her uncle’s radio transmissions of music? Were they worth their effort or the risk they took?
Not everything we do must have a monetary return or measured by it. Doing things that help and enlighten others may be reward enough. Do we need someone to thank us for what we do to make it worth our time to have done it? Do we need to know who we touch to feel our time was rewarded?
Maurie-Laure had no idea who was listening, if anyone. She had no idea what impact she was having. But had she touched just one person, her singular impact was enormous. For our own fulfillment, maybe it’s enough to have just done the good deed without any reward. How would we feel if it we were in another’s shoes? Maybe personal satisfaction is sufficient. That, in itself, may make something worth the effort.
Who have you touched today?