Peace in One’s Work
I KNOW a man who was at the head of a large and thriving wholesale dry goods business. The business had grown more from this one man’s innate power for making money than from anything else, and not at all by the orderly process of an all-round growth which we often see when the head of a growing business has the executive power first and the money-making power as a derivative. This man of whom I speak was all money-making and no executive. His establishment, which was large, with a large force of employees, was in a state of disorder, and, as a consequence, in a state of constant unquiet.
The man grew half-awake with regard to the disorder and the unquiet. He engaged an expert to put his accounts in order, so that he had a system of financial record worked out to the finest detail. He mind his office so that each bit of work was deputized to man, time, and place, almost to the minute, and the spot. He heard of the “clean desk” method of business that the men who did the largest business in the most perfect manner sat during their business interviews at an absolutely empty desk, so far as the eye could see. He made his own desk “clean.” I think he even took the inkstand off and let the eyes of his visitors rest upon an uninterrupted polished surface.
The organizing and the deputizing almost ran him into disaster, and the spirit of the office was no more quiet than before. Anyone with keen observation who went there could see that it was a large money-making machine that turned out at irregular intervals piles of coin, but made all the clatter possible about it.
A large, well-organized, regularly-working business might almost be called a beautiful thing to see, it is so clean an example of regularity, order and pliability. But there was nothing beautiful about this man’s work; for there was no real order in it, because there was no quiet at the root of it. And why? Because the man at the head of the business did everything he could in an external way and in so far as attempting to rule other people went, to make the office orderly and quiet, but he did nothing whatever in himself. He made a noise when he came in, — he made a noise all the time he was in his office, — he went out with a noise. Sometimes it was more than a noise, — it was a furor!
Not only was it impossible for an office to have the dignity and quiet which belongs to every well-ordered working house, with such an example as that before it every day, but, more than the example, the noisy influence brought in by the “head of the firm” could not be counteracted. And the man went on and on, day after day, in conceited ignorance of the fact that he was poisoning his own office and keeping its inmates in the disease by his own wilful refusal to cure himself.
One day of actual quiet in that office, which came from the really quiet spirit of its head, would have done more toward calming it down and putting it in order than years of organizing, deputizing and supervising without such quiet.
When a business man has a really quiet mind, the order of his business grows out of that quiet., It is as if, when the noise stopped, certain suggestions for the obedience to law and order could be heard. It is quite true and quite wonderful how much can be suggested to a quiet mind from within itself whenever such a mind begins to listen.
Now suppose one employee in that office was so impressed with its noise that he fell to wondering what could be done toward bettering it. He had no authority himself, — his employer did not want suggestions on the noise question, and he felt a sense of disloyalty in talking about it with his fellow-workers, although he heard it commented upon in various pleasant and unpleasant ways by all about him. Suppose it occurred to this same employee that he would protect himself from the strain of such an office by keeping quiet in himself, and he — by not resisting the noise and not responding to it — found that by the steady use of his will, first every minute of the day, and then every hour, he could finally get his brain in the habit of quiet concentration, which would not only place him where he habitually ignored the noise, but would enable him to do his own work better and more intelligently. What effect would that have upon the rest of the office? If any one of the noisy clerks had in the least the sensitiveness of mind to suffer from the noise, he would be sensitive to the quiet of one man near him, and without any remark whatever, he would find himself working to get more quiet himself. When one’s attention is once called to the vibrations of quiet they grow more powerful than the clash and discord of noise. But when one is whirling in the clash and the discord of noise, and blinded by the dust such noise always makes, it is not easy for a quiet vibration to catch his mind.
However, our one friend in this noisy office would eventually do more than merely protect himself, even if he made only one less noisy man in the office. He would probably find a fellow-worker in another clerk, sooner or later, and then in one or two others, — thus the quiet of the office might grow even from the efforts of one insignificant clerk, — but it would be a long, long time before there could be a chance of such suggestion reaching the head of the business house.
If the man was so immersed in his own noise as not to have the perception that only by beginning in himself could he change the disorder of his surroundings, he could not have the sensitiveness to perceive the quiet in one individual clerk, or in two or three, even. Nevertheless, it is fully as well worth while for the one individual clerk to find his oasis of quiet and stay there, for in that way he could not only do his own work better, — he could not only save himself from the strain of the battering of the surrounding noise on his brain, — he could hold himself in the state where he could be of use in a business way to those about him, provided any one should ever ask his help.
You see it is the standard for himself that was all wrong in the case of the noisy, business man, and it seems very difficult for men to learn that to make a thing right which has been wrong they must change their standard entirely and begin to work themselves in obedience to a higher standard. There could, it seems to me, be no better example of this mistake than in this man who spared neither pains nor expense to reorganize his office in order that it might have the quiet and dignity of an old business house, and then made not one slightest effort to live himself in obedience to a higher standard in order that he might himself have the quiet and dignity of a gentleman. The example is so extreme that as one think of it, one feels the absurdity so keenly that it hardly seems to be true. And yet that is what we are seeing about us in various forms every day, — people who are trying to reform the sphere of their lives, whether in work or play, by giving their attention to the reformation of all people and things about them, and never once even thinking to begin by trying to reform themselves.
More common than this is the complaint, “My work would be so easy and pleasant if it were not for so-and-so, or this and that.” And sometimes people touch lightly on a possible — just possible — fault in themselves and leave it at once to rail at the fault of others who, they feel, interfere with themselves.
Peace, and a margin of peace, is possible to every one. Indeed, real peace always gives us a margin. It is a refuge and a fortress, and nothing discordant can penetrate it. But to gain it one must work hard, and the work one has to do to gain peace is most invigorating to the mental and moral circulation, and consequently invigorating to the circulation of the body.
In whatever work one is engaged, whether it be a profession, a trade, or keeping a house or a home, — if one welcomes all difficulties as opportunities, and does not tolerate in one’s self any resistance to a circumstance or a man, the work has then begun toward removing all obstructions to peace in one’s work.
Think of “Brother Laurence,” who washed pots and pans in the kitchen and worked among his hogsheads of wine, always happy, always quiet, because he felt that he worked always in the presence of God. But “Brother Laurence” could never have found himself in the presence of God unless he had shunned clearly all obstructions to God’s presence, which must have constantly arisen in his consciousness. Surely “Brother Laurence” often had the temptation to shrink from the drudgery of his work. Surely he must often have wished that the men about him could be more truly Christian, and he must have been tempted to annoyance at their rudeness or other forms of selfishness, but having once felt that he realized the presence of God must have made him more keenly sensitive to the obstructions which could arise in himself to interfere with such peace. “Brother Laurence” could never have been satisfied with spurious peace, or could never have mistaken it for real, and that being the case, he could only have found the real through removing the obstructions in himself. And whether we say the Peace of God or the Peace of Law and Order, it is all the same. There is no peace except that which is given us from the Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.
“But,” some one may say, “this peace, of course, is good to gain, but while we are aiming for it, will there not be a chance of falling back in our work, and not making our business grow? One must support one’s self and one’s family. One must earn the bread and butter. We cannot stop to sentimentalize or theorize.”
My answer to that is that there is no sentimentalizing or theorizing about it; it is fact — plain, practical, every-day fact. Except that our habitual standards are so low, we — as a people — would have grasped this fact and used it long ago, and would have then been ready for higher standards, — higher standards, probably, than we could, even dream of now. As it is, we must be slow, perhaps because we have not the ability yet to hold or to use to the right advantage all the good power we should get if we were quicker to grasp and use the better standards that are now before us.
As to the necessity for being quiet, — take the simple matter of firing at a target. Would any one with any sense at all think that he could hit the target with a random shot, except by accident? Is it not as a matter of course that the man who holds the gun should get a steady hand and a direct aim? No one doubts this. Now there are one hundred places I — one hundred thousand places — in the work of fife where a steady hand and a direct aim are even more needed than in the case of firing to hit the bull’s-eye of a target. And yet in not one of these places would the man think to get his hand steady and his aim direct before taking his first action toward a certain work.
A man, to work with the truest intelligence, should steady his hand and be sure as he could that his aim was direct every morning before starting to work, and habitually in every new question or piece of work that may arise; and a woman should do the same, whether her work be outside or in the home with her husband and children.
Now how can we get a steady hand and a direct aim unless we have a quiet background? It is impossible. Not only that, but the more quiet our background, — not with dead quiet, but with living quiet, — the more steady our hands and the more true our aim.
How can we have a steady hand or a direct aim if our eye is askance at the misdemeanors or annoying habits of those about us? We are in bondage to every man, woman or child who rouses our antagonism. We must get out of bondage to our fellow-men if we are to do our work quietly. And all work must be done quietly to be done as well as it can be done. For the best quality of my finished work, I may sometimes be dependent upon other men who have another part of the same work to do, but for the best quality of my own immediate work, — and more than that, — for the healthy attitude of my mind toward my work, — I am really dependent upon no man or upon no set of circumstances. I am free and independent, and if I stop for one instant to blame another man for my own mistakes, or for my own unhealthy state of mind toward my work, I am only befogging myself and interfering very seriously with the discovery of my own powers and their best use.
This power of an actual human independence is a very great truth, and an open secret, but it seems to be a secret, — for I find very few who know it, and fewer still who understand it. The trouble is that men are living so entirely in this false dependence upon one another that they cannot recognize its falseness. It seems to most people to be a normal way of living, — or perhaps an abnormality which is a matter of course. The privilege of recognizing its abnormality in all its falseness, and of working for the real and normal independence is one the value of which will be felt very deeply when we have used it, for a long enough time to actually prove it; and there is nowhere that this privilege could be taken with more gain to the individual and so to the world at large than in the every day life of all work, whatever the work may be.