Paper Plans

As he wanders the streets of a desolate London, wondering who might have the power to overthrow his absolute, ever-watching, all-oppressing government, 1984‘s Winston Smith concludes that, “if there was hope, it lay in the proles.” The proles are a lower social class who, despite being neither very intelligent nor well-stocked in the arms department, could find strength in their numbers.

Earlier that day, Winston had even committed this conviction to paper, but now, walking among them, he finds it rather difficult to cling to it: “When you put it in words it sounded reasonable: it was when you looked at the human beings passing you on the pavement that it became an act of faith.”

“Paper is patient,” we say in Germany. You can write down whatever you want. Getting the words to detach from the paper and manifest into reality, however, that’s another story. As such, paper plans are cheap, and it is perhaps no wonder that a German, field marshal Helmuth von Moltke, coined the now-famous adage that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

Making plans is easy. What’s hard is having faith in the plan when you’re wading through cold water, when the money gets tight, or when you feel too tired to write. The true value of your plan will only ever be revealed if you can manage to stick to it when you’re no longer sure it’s going to work. We all feel that way when we draft our plans, but it’s only after first contact with the enemy — or even just reality — when the wheat begins to separate from the chaff.

Hardest of all, however, is to have faith in the people supposed to execute the plan, even if the only person we need to trust is ourself. The way of the faithful is to trust that the end will be worth the means, but it also means trying our best to make the end worth the means.

So when Winston Smith looks at the proletariat and doubts their ability to succeed in an all-important mission, perhaps he should stop writing in his diary. Perhaps, he should pick up a club and join them.