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HomemilastwordThe Last Word: Calm Amid the Chaos

The Last Word: Calm Amid the Chaos

In the 1950s, French author Jean Giono penned an allegorical tale, The Man Who Planted Trees.

It is a story of Elzéard Bouffier, a solitary shepherd who selflessly devotes his life to planting trees, one acorn at a time. Over a period of 40 years, a wasteland becomes a forest as Bouffier transforms the desolate valley in the foothills of the Alps into a Garden of Eden.

Giono has said his goal in penning the short story was to “make planting trees likeable”. But he also wanted to create an “unforgettable character”. That so many believe Bouffier is real, is testament to the author’s success.

We see in the character of Elzéard Bouffier, a man who has the wisdom and inner peace that comes from living his life with simplicity and purpose. Giono allows Bouffier to die peacefully, an old man, who had been blessed by “an almost awesome good health” that comes from “peaceful and regular work, a frugal way of life, the bracing air of the uplands, and above all his tranquillity of mind”.

…there are enormous benefits to stripping life of its complexities

It may seem a long way from Bouffier’s forests to today’s modern day optical practice, but there is much to learn from this story.

In its purest form, the industry we work in is all about an individual’s vision. It is about helping people to see more clearly. In fulfilling this goal, the lives of the people who come into your practice are enriched beyond measure. Nowhere is this more evident than in third world nations, where the lack of even the most basic eye health services can be, quite literally, a death sentence.

In the daily grind of business life, however, it is easy to lose perspective of our core purpose. Running a successful business can be overwhelming. The demands of customers, staff, sales, service and business administration all compete for our attention, amid a climate of general economic uncertainty and political instability.

But in Giono’s Bouffier we see the dedicated pursuit of a single goal which continues, despite two world wars raging around him and, of course, a global depression. Bouffier is so single-minded he doesn’t notice the impact his life has had on other people and the natural world around him.

While we’re not advocating the planting of trees over attending to the next low cylinder needing correction that walks into your practice (although a short sabbatical or holiday can do wonders for the soul), there are enormous benefits to stripping life of its complexities.

By reminding ourselves that, at its core, the role of an eye care professional is to help a person see more clearly, transforming their life in the process; by drowning out the noise of the wars raging around us; each of us, too, may find life, health and vigour return to what was once a desolate valley.