Confessions of a Consummate Amateur

“If a thing is worth doing,” G.K. Chesterton wrote, “it is worth doing badly.”

This is not a defense of sub par performance, but a manifesto for creative diversity.

Chesterton’s aversion for the cultural exaltation of professional expertise permeates his writings. He believed in the generalist as much as he did the specialist. His world was big enough for both: though he felt the former was on the verge of extinction. Both have their place. The specialist is prone to miss the forest for the trees and the generalist the trees for the forest. Without the perspective of both we are in the danger of living in a barren land devoid of trees and forests alike.

That’s why Chesterton defended the common man’s right to explore the world. And he was willing to lead the way. He smuggled his wit and wisdom across disciplines as a covert soldier crossing enemy lines. He was not afraid to wade into the deeps with little regard for the “beware of sharks” signs posted on the shore. It is not that he held academic credentials in disdain; he did not see them as prerequisites for forming an opinion or exerting influence. And he understood the innate desire to create and articulate as a reflection of what it means to be made in the image of God:

There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God; so that even now the colour of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower (or a firework) comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education . . . Rather it is a towering levity, an uproarious amateurishness of the universe, such as we felt when were little and would as soon sing as garden, as soon paint as run. To smatter the tongues of men and angles, to dabble in the dreadful sciences, to juggle the pillars and pyramids and toss up the planets like balls, this is that inner audacity and indifference which the human soul, like a conjurer catching oranges, must keep up for ever. This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity.”

So, take a little license to do some new things badly. The childlike urge to burrow into the unknown should never be abdicated to experts. Though his words were originally penned pertaining to education, Chesterton later described his quote “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly” as a defense of “hobbies and amateurs and general duffers.” Don’t let your passions rust out as you await some unattainable standard of perfection.

This is a good reminder for those of us who enjoy dabbling in areas where we are not appropriately credentialed, whatever being “appropriately credentialed” might mean. I’m reminded of the Far Side sketch where a group of bewildered scientists are huddled around a dysfunctional super-computer. As they all scratch their heads, a janitor points out that the power cord is unplugged. Sometimes the solution is too simple for sophisticated minds.

I’m an amateur in regards to many things. I’ve written a number of short poetic lines, which in my untrained opinion, are not very good at all. I doodle on a regular basis, and by any artistic standard, my sketches are simple at best. I enjoy writing, and to my delight, from time to time, discover that some things I say make sense.

I tinker with a lot of things I’m not very good at. Yet.

Because, after all, if a thing is worth doing: it is worth doing badly.