Advice to the Young

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Jun 5, 1948

Advice to the Young

I read an attack on tidiness by Mrs. Mann, M.P., the other day, and I confess I felt indignant.

I am one of the six untidiest men on earth, and there are few things that annoy me more than to have my vices spoken of even with tolerance.

After all I myself hate them. They have been a nuisance to me all my days, and I know that life would have gone much more smoothly for me if I had lived in obedience to the maxims of the copy-book.

The tidy man, I reckon, has three-quarters of the day in which to enjoy himself. He does not spend hour after hour looking for things. He knows where to find the sixth volume of the encyclopaedia, where the ink is, where he left his spectacles, in which pocket to find his book of stamps, where he put the corkscrew, where he left the letter he was given to post.

The great virtue of most of the virtues is that they are time-savers. Think of the work you can get through in a day if you are punctual in all your activities, from your morning bath until you put the dog to bed for the night. Not a minute is wasted.

You need not bolt your breakfast or run for your train. You sail through the day as though propelled by a gentle breeze over a calm sea. The unpunctual man, on the other hand, lives in a kind of storm from the moment at which he leaps from his sluggard’s bed and tugs at his 24-hour beard with a razor he has not had time to sharpen.

The day’s work to him is like a voyage round Cape Horn in a hurricane, bruising and battering him till, when he gets home at night, he is hardly able to eat the dinner for which he is three-quarters of an hour late.

It is all very well being a martyr to virtue, but where is the sense in being a martyr to vice?

Certainly, if I had my life to live over again, I would—well, I’m not quire sure what I would do, but I know the advice I would give to young people.

It would be exactly the same as the advice I give them today. “Be tidy, be punctual and all that kind of thing if you want to have an easy time of it. The untidy, unpunctual man may look lazy, but the only person who has enough time on his hands to enjoy laziness is the man who is a model of punctuality and tidiness.”

It is true that a virtue can become a vice if carried to excess. The reign of tidiness in the home may become a reign of terror.

Still, I think a moderate amount of cleanliness, punctuality and tidiness can be instilled into the young without endangering their happiness.

They will be none the worse, I am sure, for having learnt to shut doors after them, to refrain from putting jammy fingers on walls and books, to leave the floor of the drawing-room not entirely buried under a litter of scattered toys, to leave a few flower-pots in the garden unbroken, to pull down a blind without doing something to make it impossible for anyone to pull it up again.

All these things I would teach the young, along with the proper way to spell “cat” and “dog.” You may think that his is undue interference with children’s liberty, but I maintain that it is an essential part of the education in liberty, and that, without a mass of habits that seem not to matter, a human being will become like me, a mere slave to untidiness, unpunctuality, and all manner of time-wasting vices.

I am all for spit and polish in other people. I realize that if I had been brought up in the school of spit and polish I should now know where to find a penknife to sharpen the blunt pencil with which I am writing this article.

What with one M.P. ridiculing the bathroom, however, and another inveighing against tidiness, I fear we are at the beginning of a new age of indiscipline in which a small boy with a jammy face trying to see whether his new dagger can cut a hole in the drawing-room sofa will take the place of George Washington as a model for the young.



Quotes by ROBERT LYND:


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