Volume XXXVIII, #32: Two Hands Full of Toil
In the beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge proved to be in a very sad state, though unbeknownst to him. Scrooge, who was a money lender, was a hard worker evidenced by the amount of hours at the office and a shrewd businessman who often times lacked compassion in his dealings with his customers. Because of his hard work and shrewd ways, he was very successful and wealthy. One might ask “why would anyone describe a successful and wealthy businessman as being in a sad state?” Scrooge would arrive home late most nights to a dark, cold, and empty house, have dinner alone, and go to sleep alone.
Ecclesiastes 4:5-8 “The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
The Ecclesiastes writer in this passage first provides a spectrum that all workers fall on. On one end of the range is the sluggard who starves because he chooses to not work at all, and at the other end is the man who has too much on his plate, which leads to constant stress, late nights, and interrupted weekends. The wise writer lets the readers know where is best. “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil.” The man with one handful of toil might not be as “successful” or financially wealthy as the one with two hands full, but that is the point. One can choose to strive after more success and riches, but at the expense of the better things in life.
The writer then provides wisdom that gets right to the heart of the Scrooge story. “One person who has no one... yet there is no end to all his toil”. Throughout Scrooge’s life he chose academia and business over meaningful relationships. In school growing up he would always stick to himself and study while his peers were getting together. He neglected his familial relationships because he had no time outside of work. It was never the right time to marry because his business “required” his attention and funds, so the one woman who saw the good in Scrooge left him. At none of these junctures in his life did he stop and ask “for whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” Instead he remained laser focused on striving after the wind.
Luckily for Scrooge he had help in seeing the error of his ways, which led to better choices that would allow joy into his life. What about us? Where are we on the spectrum? For who and why do we toil? Is the amount of work we subject ourselves to getting in the way of more important aspects of life like spending time with God, family, and friends? If yes, then we too are in a sad state and need to take charge of our lives. This might mean smaller houses, fewer cars, and older clothes, but it will be more than worth it because better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil.