B1 Intermediate 11372 Folder Collection
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We start off in life being very interested in pleasure and fun. In our earliest years,
we do little but hunt out situations that will amuse us, pursuing our hedonistic goals
with the help of puddles, crayons, balls, teddies, computers and bits and pieces we
find in the kitchen drawers. As soon as anything gets frustrating or boring, we simply give
up and go in search of new sources of enjoyment – and no one appears to mind very much.
Then, all of a sudden at the age of 5 or 6, we are introduced to a terrifying new reality:
the Rule of Duty. This states that there are some things, indeed many things, that we must
do not because we like or see the point of them, but because other people, very intimidating
authoritative people who may be almost three times our size, expect us to do them – in
order, so the big people sternly explain, that we’ll be able to earn money, buy a
house and go on holiday about 30 years from now. It sounds pretty important – sort of.
Even when we’re home and start crying and tell our parents that we just don’t want
to do the essay for tomorrow, they may take the side of Duty; and speak to us with anger
and impatience – beneath which there is simply a lot of fear – about how people
who can’t complete a simple homework assignment on volcanoes (and want to build a treehouse
instead) will never survive in the adult world. Questions of what we actually enjoy doing,
what gives us pleasure, still occasionally matter in childhood, but only a bit. They
become matters increasingly set aside from the day-to-day world of study, reserved for
holidays and weekends. A basic distinction takes hold: pleasure is for hobbies, pain
is for work. It’s no wonder that by the time we finish university, this dichotomy
is so entrenched, we usually can’t conceive of asking ourselves too vigorously what we
might in our hearts want to do with our lives; what it might be fun to do with the years
that remain. It’s not the way we’ve learnt to think. The rule of duty has been the governing
ideology for 80% of our time on earth – and it’s become our second nature. We are convinced
that a good job is meant to be substantially dull, irksome and annoying. Why else would
someone pay us to do it? The dutiful way of thinking has such high prestige, because it
sounds like a road to safety in a competitive and alarmingly expensive world. But the Rule
of Duty is actually no guarantee of true security. Once we’ve finished our education, it in
fact emerges as a sheer liability masquerading as a virtue. Duty grows positively dangerous.
The reasons are two-fold. Firstly, because success in the modern economy will generally
only go to those who can bring extraordinary dedication and imagination to their labours
– and this is only possible when one is, to a large extent, having fun.
Only when we are intrinsically
motivated are we capable of generating the very high levels of energy and brainpower
necessary to stand out from the competition. Work that has been produced merely out of duty will be limp and
lacking next to that done out of love. The other thing that happens when our work is
informed by our own sense of pleasure is that we get more insightful about the pleasures
of others – that is, of the clients and customers a business relies upon. We can best
please our audiences when we have mobilised our own feelings of enjoyment. In other words,
pleasure isn’t the opposite of work; it’s a key ingredient of successful work. Yet we
have to recognise that asking ourselves what we might really want to do – without any
immediate or primary consideration for money or reputation – goes against our every,
educationally-embedded assumption about what could possibly keep us safe – and is therefore
rather scary. It takes immense insight and maturity to stick with the truth: that we
will best serve others – and can make our own greatest contribution to society – when
we bring the most imaginative and most authentically personal sides of our nature into our work.
Duty can guarantee us a basic income. Only sincere, pleasure-led work can generate sizeable
success. When people are suffering under the rule of duty, it can be helpful to take a
morbid turn and ask them to imagine what they might think of their lives from the vantage
point of their deathbeds. The thought of death may usefully detach us from prevailing fears
of what others think. The prospect of the end reminds us of an imperative higher still
than a duty to society: a duty to ourselves, to our talents, to our interests and our passions.
The death-bed point of view can spur us to perceive the hidden recklessness and danger
within the sensible dutiful path.
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The Dangers Of Being Dutiful

11372 Folder Collection
g2 published on December 7, 2016
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