“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.

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