“He that breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom.”
So says Gandalf to Saruman, as recounted by him at the Council of Elrond in Chapter 2, Book II of The Fellowship of The Ring. In the context of the story, Gandalf is criticizing Saruman for wanting to overstep his role as Saruman the White by allying with Sauron, thereby hoping to have greater impact over the affairs of Middle-Earth. Saruman goes on to justify this by saying…
“But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see… A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Nùmenor… We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it… We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only our means.”
Gandalf doesn’t choose this path.
As evaluators and consultants, we are sometimes presented with programs where, in order to do a truly effective evaluation, the evaluation design becomes so elaborate and sophisticated that conducting the evaluation in this way may actually interfere with the functioning of the program. Gandalf’s quote from above reminded me of this situation, as the pull of doing things the “right way” methodologically to get the most trustworthy results may not always be the wisest course of action in an applied context.
Happy Tolkien Reading Day!