Haste and Waste



    IT is a common dictum of proverbial philosophy that “haste makes waste,” that in hurry we rush upon confusion and miss our aim, making less progress than the tardy. But it is not so commonly recognized that haste really is waste, that it not only causes entanglement of affairs but wrecks the individuality as well. Haste is the fever of power, a malaria of the soul; and you will find that the great characters of the earth, in history or in our own day, are those who have been able to hold themselves undistracted and undismayed, – without haste. They have had that sanity or balance of mind which could perceive the futility of hurry and the ultimate triumph of serene endeavour. They never allowed themselves [Page 43] to be flustered, there was nothing in their blood of the “fluttered folk and wild.” Each moment was sufficient for itself and its task. If there was more to do in an hour than human force could accomplish, then it must wait the next hour; one thing only was certain, no accumulation of duties and obligations must be allowed to astound the spirit for an instant. For the spirit, the central power within us, our self’s very self, is in its essence and in its quality if not in reality eternal, and, when we do not hurry it, dwells in eternity amid the fleeting minutes and shows of time.
    This is not the frosty grist of fanciful preciosity; it is common truth. Think for a moment. Stop now, as you are reading this recent volume, and notice how absolutely unhurried and unperturbed you inmost spirit may be. True, you have to hurry at times. You may have had to run for your train, or you may be late for dinner, you may have a stint of work to finish against time. The consciousness of this has not only made you hurry [Page 44] your steps, it has made you hurry your soul. That is wrong. No matter how much of a hurry we may be in upon occasion, there is always the central consciousness which we must try to control and keep undisturbed. Now, forget your haste, just for a second or two, let go, stop pushing the train you are riding in, stop trying to do all your work at once; and perceive how deliberate, how regal and indolent your soul is, how sure of itself, how indifferent to the petty chances of punctuality or accomplished toil.
    Here and to-day we cannot live as our fathers used. We cannot escape the pressure of modern life altogether, mitigate it as we may. But even supposing that you are under the necessity of strain in your occupation, that your hours are long and your work exacting, nothing can excuse haste or hastiness. It seems as if there were two selves, — the lower humble, obedient, toiling self, who occupies your body, sits in it at the table, rides in it on the train, walks in it through the street [Page 45]; and the superior, commanding, thoughtful, masterly self, who does none of these things, but merely looks on and approves. Now, it may often be necessary for the inferior self to hurry, to drive on the willing body at top speed in accomplishment of some good object; but it can never be needful for the dominant self to be in haste. It is the business of the lower self to serve and bear about the higher; it is the business of the higher self to rule and direct the lower. And if I allow my inner imperial self to descend and toil in the servant’s place, to become hurried and anxious and fearful, I am degraded; I deteriorate every minute. I leave the throne unoccupied, and yet the work of the scullery is no better done.

    Many a man makes a wreck of health and happiness through worry. He cannot, as we say, possess his soul in patience. He cannot see the needs of the hour alone, he is looking at the needs of the coming year at the same time. No wonder he is abashed and disheartened [Page 46]. A piece of work is to be done. To put his hand to it quietly and without worry or hurry, would mean that it could be finished in a day. If he would only hold his ruling self still, and order that useful drudge, his secondary self, to perform the labour, a day would amply suffice to see it finished. But, no, he does not do that. He is infected with the modern plague of haste. His soul is nervous; it is not content to sit by and see the work performed; it must rush down and tire itself out in tasks it was never meant to be occupied with. So our friend frets and fumes over his work for a week before he begins it; it keeps him awake at night; it disturbs his appetite; it makes him nervous and fanciful and incompetent; and when at last he does drag himself through the performance, the work is ill done.
    Yes, it is necessary, in order to secure good work, that we should throw ourselves into it whole-heartedly, as the phrase goes. There must be no half-measures; we must be absorbed [Page 47] absolutely in the task before us. But this does not mean that the directing soul, the loftier self, must be engrossed. It means only that all those powers and faculties are to be employed which rightly can be employed in labour. It is not the province of the soul to labour. Its proper office is to exist, to be and enjoy, to sorrow if it must, to rejoice when it can, to direct, order, and govern.
    It is absolutely necessary that we guard against the intrusion of haste within the precincts of the spirit. If we have no habit of easy work, no faculty for accomplishing things without effort, we must try to acquire it. For it is above all things desirable that we should live without fret and strain and haste in the inmost chambers of being. It does not make the least difference what the occupation may be. You enter a studio, perhaps, where the walls are dim and reposeful, where the atmosphere is quiet, and where you might suppose no haste nor disquiet ever entered. But what do you find? The occupant is a [Page 48] modern painter. One glance condemns him; he is doomed; the blight of haste is upon him; every movement of his hand, every turn of his head, reveals the fever of excitement under which he is working. He cannot be himself for a minute, no, not for a second. He is bereft of control. He is consumed with haste. The fatal malady of modern life against which we must fight has taken hold of him. You perceive at once that he is not living at the centre of his being at all. His soul, instead of remaining in its secret chamber, alone, contemplative, kindly, serene, and glad, has rushed into his haste-driven fingers. His work is killing him, because he is not doing it properly, and the work itself is being ruined for want of proper balance and control.
    On the other hand, look at this workman in a machine-shop. The belts are whirring and the cogs roaring all around him; the dingy house of iron and glass is a rattlebox of noise and dust and ceaseless clang. You would say that repose in such a place were impossible [Page 49]. And yet he goes about his work with a quiet pleasure, with a poise and deliberation, that show he has learned the secret of work and of repose. He is intent, zealous, and efficient; you would even say he is absorbed in his daily business. But you perceive that at the centre of his being there is calm. He has learned to possess his soul. He is without haste [Page 50].