DANGERS TO AVOID
I cannot terminate these hints, often, I fear, too didactic and
abrupt, upon the full use of one's time to the great end of living
(as distinguished from vegetating) without briefly referring to
certain dangers which lie in wait for the sincere aspirant towards
life. The first is the terrible danger of becoming that most odious
and least supportable of persons-- a prig. Now a prig is a pert
fellow who gives himself airs of superior wisdom. A prig is a
pompous fool who has gone out for a ceremonial walk, and without
knowing it has lost an important part of his attire, namely, his
sense of humour. A prig is a tedious individual who, having made
a discovery, is so impressed by his discovery that he is capable of
being gravely displeased because the entire world is not also
impressed by it. Unconsciously to become a prig is an easy and
a fatal thing.
Hence, when one sets forth on the enterprise of using all one's
time, it is just as well to remember that one's own time, and not
other people's time, is the material with which one has to deal;
that the earth rolled on pretty comfortably before one began to
balance a budget of the hours, and that it will continue to roll on
pretty comfortably whether or not one succeeds in one's new role
of chancellor of the exchequer of time. It is as well not to chatter
too much about what one is doing, and not to betray a too-pained
sadness at the spectacle of a whole world deliberately wasting so
many hours out of every day, and therefore never really living. It
will be found, ultimately, that in taking care of one's self one has
quite all one can do.
Another danger is the danger of being tied to a programme like a
slave to a chariot. One's programme must not be allowed to run
away with one. It must be respected, but it must not be worshipped
as a fetish. A programme of daily employ is not a religion.
This seems obvious. Yet I know men whose lives are a burden to
themselves and a distressing burden to their relatives and friends
simply because they have failed to appreciate the obvious. "Oh,
no," I have heard the martyred wife exclaim, "Arthur always takes
the dog out for exercise at eight o'clock and he always begins to
read at a quarter to nine. So it's quite out of the question that
we should. . ." etc., etc. And the note of absolute finality in
that plaintive voice reveals the unsuspected and ridiculous
tragedy of a career.
On the other hand, a programme is a programme. And unless it is
treated with deference it ceases to be anything but a poor joke. To
treat one's programme with exactly the right amount of deference,
to live with not too much and not too little elasticity, is scarcely
the simple affair it may appear to the inexperienced.
And still another danger is the danger of developing a policy of
rush, of being gradually more and more obsessed by what one has
to do next. In this way one may come to exist as in a prison, and
one's life may cease to be one's own. One may take the dog out
for a walk at eight o'clock, and meditate the whole time on the fact
that one must begin to read at a quarter to nine, and that one
must not be late.
And the occasional deliberate breaking of one's programme will not
help to mend matters. The evil springs not from persisting without
elasticity in what one has attempted, but from originally attempting
too much, from filling one's programme till it runs over. The only
cure is to reconstitute the programme, and to attempt less.
But the appetite for knowledge grows by what it feeds on, and there
are men who come to like a constant breathless hurry of endeavour.
Of them it may be said that a constant breathless hurry is better
than an eternal doze.
In any case, if the programme exhibits a tendency to be oppressive,
and yet one wishes not to modify it, an excellent palliative is to
pass with exaggerated deliberation from one portion of it to
another; for example, to spend five minutes in perfect mental
quiescence between chaining up the St. Bernard and opening the
book; in other words, to waste five minutes with the entire
consciousness of wasting them.
The last, and chiefest danger which I would indicate, is one to
which I have already referred-- the risk of a failure at the
commencement of the enterprise.
I must insist on it.
A failure at the commencement may easily kill outright the newborn
impulse towards a complete vitality, and therefore every precaution
should be observed to avoid it. The impulse must not be over-taxed.
Let the pace of the first lap be even absurdly slow, but let it be
as regular as possible.
And, having once decided to achieve a certain task, achieve it at
all costs of tedium and distaste. The gain in self-confidence of
having accomplished a tiresome labour is immense.
Finally, in choosing the first occupations of those evening hours,
be guided by nothing whatever but your taste and natural
It is a fine thing to be a walking encyclopaedia of philosophy, but
if you happen to have no liking for philosophy, and to have a like
for the natural history of street-cries, much better leave
philosophy alone, and take to street-cries.