Small Price to Pay, or to Have Paid?
© 22 Apr 2013 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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The relative cost of action varies over time.


Yesterday in church one of the speakers used the phrase “‍a small price to pay.‍” My mind latched onto this phrase and I found myself reflecting on personal economy and what prices seem small.

I am often asked why I don’t play piano. I don’t know what it is about me that suggests pianist, but evidently it is fairly strong. My usual response, if I think the question is actually meant, is that “‍I want to be able to play piano just a little less than I want to use the time that would be needed to become a pianist doing other things.‍” Hundreds of hours of practice is no small price to pay.

But in reflecting on my life, there are thousands of hours I’ve spent on things that have given me nothing of long-term value. Post hoc, I’d gladly strip those things from my past and replace them with piano practice. To have spent half as much time on games and entertainment seems such a small price to have paid….

The problem with such thinking is that the value of each such moment has changed since the time in which I spent it. Today it is easy to say that I would have lost little by spending less time sketching or planning role-playing game scenarios or reading cheap novels. But in the moment to have abandoned those activities would have been no small price.

I’ve waxed poetic on the subject of hindsight before. I don’t trust it. But that said, sometimes it really is a small price to pay. To give up what you value most right now for what you will value much more eventually is an essence of self control and wisdom. “‍What price will this have been?‍” is a fruitful question to ask.

As the anonymous lyricist to the hymn “‍Should you feel inclined to censure‍” put it,

Do not form opinion’s blindly;
Hastiness to trouble tends;

A decade from now, what will be the price of that which we value so highly today? The high price to pay may become a small price to have paid.

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