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That duty is performed…

by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Years ago I began massaging a formula for living. It was nothing complicated or fancy.  In fact it was downright simple:  first do what has to be done.  If you’re someone who procrastinates you will instantly appreciate the significance of the maxim.  Likewise if you’re obsessive its thrust is evident. Those are the polar views of the proposition.  While this counsel as any other contains the possibility of a middle-road, its workability lies in its unqualified performance.  Basically, do it now and worry about the other stuff later.

“Duties are not performed for duty’s sake, but because their neglect would make the man uncomfortable. A man performs but one duty – the duty of contenting his spirit, the duty of making himself agreeable to himself.” Mark Twain

Accepting as I do that the universe is ultimately personal it does not offend my sense of equanimity to embrace Mark Twain’s centric thesis. I might advance the supporting theory that to act otherwise risks rendering oneself feckless. That is, if one is no good to oneself, then how can one be good to others? No doubt you appreciate the altruistic element as well. As such it boils down to preserving the mechanism of one’s own activity.  Even if it all sounds contrived, I can’t see myself doing things that needn’t be done before taking care of business so to speak; it is counter-intuitive not to mention illogical.

What I like about this critical option is that it eliminates the nonsense of addressing meaningless quandaries. Admit it, we spend far too much time contriving trifling agenda, to-do lists which are either superfluous or threaten to involve unnecessary discretionary spending. Meanwhile we overlook the very real danger of failing to do what has to be done. Make no mistake, these features like just about anything else in the universe are time-sensitive. It’s not unlike eating for the wrong reasons.

By first doing what has to be done there are a number of happy consequences. As I say, it eliminates the things which are merely diversionary and often whimsical. But primarily it promotes the relief Mark Twain alluded to – “contenting the spirit”. How relieving it is to do what has to be done! And if you’re one of those types who insists upon some intellectual fluff there is the added benefit of appealing to logic. If as I suppose is true there is hardly enough time in the day to do what has to be done then surely we mustn’t embroider the problem by doing what needn’t be done.  How more egregious is our irresponsible behaviour if we not only wallow in effete undertakings but actively indulge in conduct resembling a bloated bureaucracy!

Inherent in this seeming platitude is the disarming truth that life needn’t become bewildering. By focusing upon what is at hand we effectively force ourselves to live in the present and to disregard two competing absorptions over which we have no control – the past and the future. I think we all know how easy it is to be swallowed up by them! Spare yourself! First do what has to be done! I’m guessing you’ll run out of time for anything else in the end.

If you imagine it is trite to live by such rudimentary and unadorned philosophy, or that it amounts to psychological negligence to ignore the surrounding gnats of living, I invite you merely to ponder the state of nature for an illustration of what is right and proper to do. Though with good reason you may consider your being far more grand than the budding flower or flourishing tree, the fulfillment of our purpose likewise finds its nourishment only in feeding its needs. The ornamentation of a garden is a pale addition to what is already the incomprehensible and inimitable production of nature. Though many of us (myself included I regret to say) persist in deceiving ourselves that caring for anything other than our mandatory needs is appropriate, it is a futile effort condemned to disappoint.




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