“Will the Results be Worth the Effort?” Extreme decisions in the heroic era. . .

Every accomplishment of every kind, from insignificant to monumental and the whole range between, starts with an idea and then proceeds through plan and execution to accomplishment. Simple enough in concept, especially for the thousands of minor accomplishments that constitute our daily lives: get breakfast, get to work, get home to dinner, get to bed. Weaving these into a life of personal relationships and ambitions involves a higher level of intent and more work, sometimes to levels that seem to outstrip our most elaborate preconceived planning.

What then? Sometimes we become so committed to a project that withdrawal or retreat seems out of the question. When the Antarctic explorers of the heroic age, having ventured very far out on the Antarctic plateaus in search of new lands and scientific discoveries, found themselves stranded with no help to be expected, what could they do? The time and money invested, the commitments made with all intention to be honored, the risk undertaken in more favorable conditions looming larger as they deteriorate—these can all combine to drive any project into dangerous territory, from which retreat seems as ill-advised as continuing on. What then?

Once the shuttle is launched, once the marriage is consummated, once the expedition has left home base for good, there is no alternative to proceeding according to plan. No plan can anticipate every single turn in the road ahead, cover every shortage, replace the inevitable breakdowns—but the best of them can look into the future with clear vision, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

If the effort seems so monumental that the fulfilment appears impossible with the resources at hand, then perhaps it is. But, nothing venture, nothing gain. No truly great accomplishments come without great risk. And great risk must be undertaken with great faith.

It is such faith—sometimes of the religious kind, more often of the secular—that is the wellspring of human enterprise. It has led to the inventions of the printing press and the internet, to the development of democracies and the suppression of dictatorships, to the exploration and discovery of our planet and the universe beyond?

Were the results worth the effort?

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