“Many Hands Make Light Work”: But the Hearts Help Too

Two recent experiences have reminded me of the truth of this saying, though I’ve often heard it expressed slightly differently, such as ‘many hands make the load light.’

So besides wanting to get the words right, I thought I should also find out who said them. It seems to be loosely associated with various sources, including an African proverb, but is generally attributed to John Heywood, a 16th century playwright, musician, and collector of proverbs and epigrams.

The surface meaning is simple – the more people who help, the more quickly and easily even a large job can get done. Of course this is usually true, as long as those hands work together effectively.

But in many cases there’s more to it than simply dividing the labor. It’s a matter of morale. If you know you aren’t left alone to tackle a daunting task, if you have both help and company, you feel like some of the weight has been taken off of you. It’s often easier and more enjoyable to work together, both dividing the amount of work, and sharing in carrying it out.

And if the company is good, and there’s goodwill between all, it can seem more like play than work. Also, we feel less alone, whatever the task at hand.

I had two recent experiences that played out this expanded interpretation of these words.

First, my parents came to town both to visit me and to help me with a particularly daunting task that I wouldn’t have had a clue how to manage on my own.

I needed a new blackout shade installed in my bedroom – a task far beyond the scope of this very non-handy person. And since I live in a beach town that seems to encourage moisture and mold, and the previous window covering didn’t really allow me to air out the room, I had another problem. A black covering of mold had started creeping across the windows and especially the plaster wall around them.

Cleaning isn’t my specialty either, and the mold was a bit frightening. So we had to kill the mold, clean the black off the walls, wash the windows, and install the roll-down shade. My Dad knew how to install the blind, and all three of us worked together, along with a little advice from the local Miner’s Hardware, to tackle the rest of the problem.

Well, it got done, in one afternoon, and though it wasn’t the most pleasant vacation activity we’d ever enjoyed, we still managed to have a fun visit, and to have the satisfaction of getting the job done.

It was a relief just knowing that help was coming, and that they cared enough to do this for me. I felt even more weight lifted off my shoulders as the job was done, and I then had the tools and confidence I needed to tackle some smaller jobs on my own.

So, many hands, a variety of skills, feeling less alone, and love, all made this a better experience. It was the many hands, but it was more, too, that made the work lighter.

It was the same a short time after when I gathered with several of my friends at our place of worship to do some weeding and light yard work. It was a nice day to be outside, and I don’t mind gardening, even kind of enjoy it, if I don’t have to do it all the time. And everyone there was a friend whose company I enjoyed.

In addition to our hands, and pleasant attitudes, we each brought something to share that made the work easier. Some brought trash bags or buckets for the weeds, some brought tools, and someone brought cool water.

It turned out that our job was finished in about 45 minutes, and we had enjoyed the work — and the company — so much that we didn’t want to leave, and lingered for a few minutes longer than necessary, just to visit. We had come there to accomplish a task, we had done what needed to be done, and we were almost sorry it was done so quickly.

Yet it would have seemed a very large and lonely task if any one of us had tried to do it alone.

Again, the job was lighter, because we all helped. But it also felt lighter, because no one had to tackle it alone. And our hearts felt lighter because we had all been there with the spirit of giving, of helping, and felt we gained something instead.

So it’s the hands, the variety of skills and strengths, the numbers, but also the willing spirit, the hearts, the feeling of belonging, of being cared for, of being part of something positive.

What similar experiences have you had, and how can we make more of what we need to do feel like that? Please post in the comments.

Oh yes, and the business application? If we work alone, we can still benefit from “many hands” in the following ways: We can outsource certain tasks that aren’t our specialty; we can draw on the advice and support of a network of peers and mentors in our field; and we can even partner on a project occasionally, to experience the different perspective of working together instead of going it alone.

Sweet Peas, Sour-Sweet Tea, and a Search for Metaphors.


I had brewed the perfect cup of afternoon herbal tea (tisane, not true tea) until it reached a rich, golden brown. I sometimes like to mix two kinds, for more flavor and body. This time it was plain rooibos, a full-bodied but smooth, neutral tasting south African tea, blended with crisp, refreshing peppermint.

I picked up the cup for my first sip, ready to savor it, and instead made a face. What was this? It turned out I hadn’t checked the wrapper carefully, and the second teabag was not crisp, cool peppermint, but sour-sweet honey-lemon. I like honey-lemon. It also mixes well with rooibos. But it was startlingly different from what I was expecting.

The second sip was a much better experience, because I had changed my expectations. I was then prepared to enjoy something equally good, but different than what I’d planned, and I enjoyed each sip more than the last, because I’d happily adjusted to the change. A trade of one good thing for a different good thing.

The point here is that the tea was the same as it was my first sip, but now I knew what to expect. What changed was my perspective.

As a poet, I’m always trying to turn even mundane experiences into metaphors and life lessons.

This one isn’t too complex or deep, but its also not too difficult too make the connection. Sometimes we perceive something as positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant, not by its real properties, but by our expectations. But as long as the unexpected thing is harmless and good in itself, or can be turned into a positive, we can improve our experience by changing our expectations and perceptions.

In short, we can often adjust to the change and enjoy what is, even if it wasn’t what we’d planned on.

I thoroughly enjoyed that cup of honey-lemon tea, once I knew what I was drinking, just as I thoroughly enjoyed the cup of peppermint tea I sipped on while writing this.

I also enjoyed three unexpected, extended conversations on my walk today, which threw my schedule at least an hour behind, but which I still found worthwhile. Since my goals and time-frame for today were flexible enough to accommodate the adjustment, I allowed myself to enjoy and benefit from — and perhaps benefit others — from the encouragement exchanged.

While I had only planned a quick, solitary walk before starting the rest of my day, I found myself changing my plans and expectations when something equally beneficial, though unexpected, presented itself.


Now this second story seemed interesting enough to write about, but it was significantly harder to extract a metaphor, or any kind of meaning from it. Still I felt like I had to try.

The other day, when at my favorite local produce stand, I decided to splurge on a bouquet of sweet-smelling sweet-pea flowers. They were a mix of dark and light purple, my favorite colors, with a compatible blend of cream colored blooms, and a small splash of pale pink. Though the purples were my favorite, the whole mix was harmonious and attractive.

But later I noticed one sprig of red that stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. The red flower was perfectly appealing on its own but just didn’t seem to go with the other more mellow colors. I tried to adjust my eye – o.k., my expectations again – but I still found that bit of incongruous red slightly jarring.

My solution? I took out the red sprig and put it in its own container. This resulted in two flower arrangements to enjoy, and a calmer, more appealing mix of flowers in the larger bouquet. It was simply a matter of taste. Mine apparently didn’t match that of the person who arranged the bouquet, or possibly not much thought was put into the choices.

But I put the one sprig of red blooms in a white cup off by itself and enjoyed both it, and the purple and white blend, separately.

So what does this mean? Maybe there is truly no deeper meaning here, but I felt the need to look for one. In my poet’s mind, if it’s worth mentioning, it’s probably worth making into a metaphor. Maybe all it means is I love flowers and wanted to talk about them.

Let me just be clear here. This has nothing to do with segregation, or ugly, hidden agenda like that. It was really just a matter of aesthetics, and customizing something to my taste.

I think that’s the main idea. If the way something comes ready-made doesn’t work for me, then I try to customize it to my personality and strengths. That’s my approach to a lot of areas of life. I just wish more of them were as easy as this one.

It’s also about how if something, or someone, doesn’t shine in a particular group, they may be placed to better advantage somewhere else, where they fit. I could go on with endless examples of this in the human sphere, but that really isn’t the focus of this post. So I’ll just give one idea.

I don’t like crowds, or large parties, or sports events, or anything large and loud. So rather than try to force myself to fit in to something like that, I’ll be much happier, more in my element, like the red flower in its own white cup, if I stay home to read and listen to soft music, or visit with one or two close friends. Why would I even try to fit where I’m not happy or at my best advantage?

Now the one flower idea led me of course to a particular Van Gogh painting I’ve thought a lot about. There’s a field of purple irises (both my favorite color and one of my favorite flowers). But in this field there’s one white iris.

It doesn’t detract from the beauty of the others, nor is it any less beautiful. In fact I’ve often identified with that one white iris, as I imagine Van Gogh did himself. There is a combination of distinction – different talents and traits that have their own, even special merit – and the pain of being different. A genius like Van Gogh, or anyone creative, doesn’t usually blend in with the group, but stands out.

So it’s a distinction that has nothing wrong in it, and certainly some positives. But there’s also an element of loneliness in it. It can be both wonderful and difficult to stand out as one-of-a-kind in a group that is otherwise all the same.

So how does this fit with my one red flower? I have no clue. The distinctions are not the same, but just reminded me of each other anyway. But I found that in this case the red flower did better in its own element, standing out without the clash it caused among the mellower colors.

In most cases, of course, variety is wonderful. But sometimes, finding a better fit makes sense.

I don’t think I’m much closer to a meaningful metaphor here, so I’ll just say this: in some situations, changing our expectations — like with the tea – helps us enjoy something different or unexpected. In other cases, changing something so it works better for us is the way to go. But just because I took the red flower out of the bouquet doesn’t mean I enjoyed, or valued it, any less.

And flowers of any color, and hot tea of nearly any flavor, are almost always a good thing. But sometimes you’re in the mood for sour, sometimes sweet, sometimes refreshing. Sometimes bright colors, sometimes muted ones, and in my case always, always, purple.

Make of it all what you will.

Goodbye to Poetry Month, Hello to a More Poetic Life From Now On

Now that April and National Poetry Month are over, I wanted to use this post to finish my mini “poetry series,” then I’ll move forward again with my usual content.

I hope anyone who has read these posts, and poems, has enjoyed this brief introduction to poetry, and will continue to remember to seek out and enjoy a poem now and then as part of your life.

I’m going to share two of my poems in this post, then briefly explain both how the poem came about, and how a wider application might be made, even in the business world.

But first, a bit of unfinished business. In my last post I shared poems by one of the poets quoted in the article I included. So today I’m showcasing the other poet, Leona Guidace. She published a book-length poem, drawing heavily (pun intended) on her background in visual arts to make the work visually and emotionally rich and complement her words.

Since the poem is a bit hard to excerpt, and the images are so important, I’m just putting in a link to a sample here. It’s written under another name, so don’t worry, you’re in the right place. And just keep clicking on the page to get to the next one.

I found this exciting and creative. I love it when different disciplines are brought together to complement each other, just like when certain opposite words are juxtaposed, as this sample aptly demonstrates. Enjoy.



Now, whether you find this treat or torture, here are two poems I have written.

Part of having the mind of a poet means observing, noticing, and reflecting on things more deeply, and applying them in our lives and work, artistic or otherwise. I try to make these connections in this blog, hoping to help my readers see how they can develop their poet’s eye and use the insights and new perspective they gain to enrich their life, their work, and even their approach to the business world.

This first poem takes a humorous look at an everyday kind of encounter, and also tries to see things from the perspective of the other “person.”

Ode to The Spider

I have the advantage

in size,

in right of occupancy,

in ability to wield a broom.


Still, on your side,

you have speed

and the element of surprise,

not to mention being ugly

enough to haunt my dreams.


I think the terror we inspire

in each other is equal

though I, unless your bite

is poisonous, am less likely

to die from our encounter.

Yet I usually view

each of your kind

with the same level of dread.


You startle me, suddenly

rushing across the wall

above my kitchen sink.

I scream – (how maddeningly

female of me) – and run

into the other room

to gather my wits

and find a weapon.


This gives you warning

and sufficient time

to run into some room

of your own, some crack

or corner I can’t see.


Perhaps you also scream,

inaudibly to me

but loud enough in your world

to make you wonder

if the neighbors heard.


I wonder if your nerves

are as raw as mine

for the rest of the night,

if you tell your friends

about me later when you talk

on your tiny telephone,

or if you can’t bear

to even think about me,

you still shiver so

at the mere idea

of seeing me again.


You hope I’ll stay

away, in another room

the way I hope you’ll escape

out the same opening

you entered through,

go back to your cozy web,

watch a movie to soothe

your mind, carefully avoiding

all horror shows – especially



You’d rather not bite me,

smiting me with your

theoretical venom,

the way I’d prefer

to avoid squishing you

into oblivion.


So really we’re the same,

not meaning any harm,

not out for malice,

content to live

and let each other live

but please, oh so separately,

unfelt, unseen.

I won’t say that after writing this poem I’m much less afraid of spiders, or that I don’t occasionally feel the need to “wield a broom.” But the poem did provide a bit of perspective, as well as comic relief.

And I think such perspective can be applied in other aspects of life, when seeing the other person’s point of view might help to moderate our feelings about the situation.

For example, if you are nervous about interviewing for a job, maybe the interviewer is also nervous, afraid of how his or her choice may affect their prospects of a promotion. Or if you are interviewing an expert for an article, they may be nervous about being interviewed. In both cases, seeking to put the other person at ease can help you as well.

Now this next poem shows how tangible, literal objects, such as fingernails can be meaningful in themselves, but also serve as metaphors for something more.

I wrote this poem after a long time working two part-time jobs — as a geriatric caregiver and a massage therapist. Both jobs were a good fit for me, doing work I loved. But it can also be tiring to spend a lot of time caring for the needs of others, especially as you begin to feel your own age and other health issues.

I had just retired from caregiving, but was still feeling burned out and depleted, and decided to take a short leave of absence from my job as a massage therapist.

One of the requirements of doing that job is to keep my nails very short and well-trimmed, so that I can maximize my effectiveness and minimize the chance of causing the client any discomfort. A small sacrifice, but the luxury of growing them long for a change symbolized the freedom I felt when I was able to focus more on self-care for awhile.

Letting My Nails Grow

It’s my small act of rebellion,

a temporary declaration

of independence, a small

needed freedom.


They say you must put on

the oxygen mask, take care

of yourself before you can

take care of others well.


I’ve grown tired, over the years,

it seems, from taking care of others’

needs, though it’s work I love, or

used to, or want to say I do.


But for these short weeks

of long-needed rest, I let

my nails grow long and lustrous,

making them impractical

for “working with my hands,”

my permission to do,

for this too-brief respite,

closer to only what I want to do.


I tell myself I’ll be ready soon,

I’ll clip and smooth my nails,

ready these hands, steady them,

gain renewed strength, willingly

present them for service once again,

groomed and ready to resume duties.