WHEN URGENT WORK IS DONE

Sean Coghlan S.J.

It is said that confession is good for the soul so I'm going to make a confession. 1 am sitting at my desk and l don't know what to do with myself. I'm sitting here and I'm feeling a bit paralysed and guilty. There is nothing absolutely urgent that has to be done immediately or sooner. There are lots and lots of things I could do and should do. Believe it or not, there are even many things I want to do.

What's wrong with me? I have it. I'm suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawing from what? From work that has to be done immediately or sooner! When one is doing such "urgent" work, one feels that one's existence is justified. One forgets about other, more important values. One forgets about the ambiguities and uncertainties of life. One forgets, most of all, about the deep void in one's heart which cannot be filled by anything created, including work. It's there only for God.

A few days ago I went for a walk with a friend. We discussed such matters as we wound our way along the leafy and humid trails of Hong Kong island. My friend is a competent and successful business man. He has worked very hard. Yet, he knows that, due to objective circumstances, he has, by now, attained all that he can reasonably expect to attain in his profession. To achieve more would demand a severe boosting of effort and a major change of direction. Even if he worked very hard, it might be impossible to attain further success and it might be of no clear benefit to society. Where does he go and what does he do? Start to work even harder?

Do you want to be an addict? You do! Don't worry. There is plenty of scope for you to become one. Alcohol? No problem. Try the supermarkets. Cigarettes? Easy, same place. Drugs? I believe no problem. But don't ask me where. Work? Easiest of all. There is loads of it around. You'll even be praised for choosing work as your addiction. And yet work is an addiction and a dangerous one.

I am sure you will be able to find plenty of articles on work addiction. I have, however, a modest suggestion on how to overcome such an addiction. Face now a state of life that we will all have to face some time or other in the future. Granted the normal pattern of human life and no sad, sudden and surprise accident, we all come to the time when we have to "hand over" and "give up". We begin to realise that we cannot do as much as we used to and that we will soon enough be able to do even less. We slowly and rather unwillingly realise that the world will keep going without us. Others will come along to take over from us and do, perhaps, even better than we have done.

Since that stage is going to come, whether we like it or not, then we have to prepare for it. Of course, we should not give up too soon. But, does the thought of losing energy and not being busy and useful worry you? Face it now. Practice a little not being busy. If you don't do it now, you may not be able to do it later. I know some people who find it extremely difficult to accept that the active part of their live are coming to an end. By dint of will power they force themselves to keep going, at the cost, though, of being painful to themselves and to others.

I suggest that we all need to look at our values, at what we consider to be important. When I cannot work as hard as I do now, how am I going to convince myself that I am still valuable and useful and that life is still worth living, even though I may not be making an obvious, measurable impression on the world around me?

Prepare now. Sit and do nothing for a while. Control that slight feeling of panic as you begin to shift uneasily on your chair. That's what I was trying to do just a short time ago. Was doing, notice! Now, I'm writing this article!