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Wasting Time ‘Tilting at Windmills’

“Tilting at windmills.”

This phrase came to mind as my husband I walked among the windmills at a local outdoor museum on Father’s Day. I had no idea where I’d heard it before, so of course, later in the day, I googled it.

The “tilting” refers to jousting. The phrase originated in the novel Don Quixote, written by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in the early 1600s. In the scene referenced, the protagonist, Quixote, prepares to challenge an enemy.

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

Quixote’s adversary in this “righteous war”?


Jousting or tilting at windmills — at incorrectly perceived adversaries — is a vain battle at best, a waste of time at the very least.

Tilting at windmills is a vain battle at best, a waste of time at the very least. Click To Tweet

There have been windmills in my line of sight through the years. Many of them, in fact — enemies on a far hill that threatened, or more often, adversaries that I felt were worthy of elimination. Though I hardly knew their form, I was willing to do battle, usually for quite self-righteous reasons.

“….the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

And how might He bless me? With gratitude, with another jewel in my crown, with wealth and security?

My windmills have taken many forms:

  • a point of view that was unlike my own
  • a behavior that was contrary to my beliefs
  • an individual seeking unearned recognition
  • a concept or action that threatened my hard-earned security
  • a political candidate who in no way represents my values or goals for our nation, state or community.

While any of these adversaries may deserve to be engaged in battle, I’ve had to tell myself more than once maybe that battle is not mine to fight.

There are more than enough very real adversaries in my world, most of them directly in front of me, and a good many of them of my own making. My energy and Quixote-like passion might be better spent doing battle with these.

  • my prejudice
  • my lack of initiative
  • my lazy faith
  • my unfounded fears
  • my greed

Very real “windmills” whirl and spin on the landscape of my life. Of all our lives. Tackling those giants requires all the energy I can muster most days.

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills.”

Windmills 1

Mid-America Windmill Museum Kendallville, Indiana



“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” ~ William Morris

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