Aimé Michel

Le premier mystère est: pourquoi y a-t-il quelque chose plutôt que rien?
Et le deuxième, aussi grand que le premier: pourquoi suis-je là en train de penser?

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Diogenes’s Invectives

How to Always Be Right

Atlas – Air France n°84 – June 1973

 

People who know me often request, with very understandable admiration, that I explain my extraordinary love for work.

It’s true that I love work more than anything in the world. Of all my virtues, modesty put aside, my love for work is the highest. It’s hard to believe that when I see someone working really well, I could look at him toiling from sunrise to sunset without ever tiring myself.

Since endurance like this is not very common, it is my duty to better the human race by divulging some of my secrets. I think people will be grateful to me for my willing contribution to improve and to reform these permissive times.

For we must admit that nobody likes work very much anymore. As a matter of fact, we like it less and less. There appears to be a law: People always tend to do less, and that didn’t start happening yesterday, profoundly noted a wise man who meditated on the form of the pyramids in Egypt.

I will never weary of preaching love for work and the restoration of morals. Despite the prudent advice of my friends and the risks I may encounter, I will never abandon this effort. Love for work is an infinitely fragile virtue that must be used sparingly. Even the slightest exertion will crush it; especially in my case when I know what this effort is all about. Yes, I think I can say that nobody in the world has as complete an understanding of the meaning of effort as myself.

Enough! I promised to reveal some of my secrets, so here they are.

The first rule to love work very much is not to accept any compromises. For example, if you are given the job of instilling incentive in workers; by all means, do not go about soiling your hands by working with them. You must realize that workers are bold and brazen. Once given the opportunity of actually meeting those people whose advice and encouragements they normally follow without question, their respect will surely be lost. Oh, I know them only too well. Allow them to take a close look at you and they won’t hesitate to spread the notion that if you write or make speeches, it’s merely because you can’t do anything with your two hands, along with plenty of other fatal errors designed to undermine society. On what is society founded if not on the hard work of the laborer and his respect for those who inspire him to even greater heights?

My second, more subtle secret: You must not compromise with those who organize and pay the laborer because they would immediately challenge you: “What! You’re provoking the working class, you’re teaching them to say ‘down with this’ and ‘up with that’ but it’s for us to live with the ‘this’ and the ‘that’.”

For this bunch too can be very bold. They would demand that you show them how to make things work the way you claim they will.

I repeat again, don’t mix with either one group or the other. Remain among yourselves in your gazettes. And so that no one can reproach you for contemplating the quarrels which you are causing as a spectator, pretend to fight among yourselves — but with your own weapons, those of the Mind: words. Leave the others to exchange the blows. It doesn’t concern you, except (you understand) to direct it and to distribute praise and blame when the show is over. And don’t leave to anyone else the delicate job of eulogizing those who may have died in their struggle. That right is yours.

Need I remind you of still another of your undeniable rights, that of standing up for the institution of education. May the work of youth and their teachers be the apple of your eye. Don’t refrain from comment, criticism and distortion. But be especially careful not to allow teachers to give their opinion about the system. It’s worthless. They can’t be both judge and defendant.

If, unfortunately, you are a teacher, hurry up and switch to journalism, get an appointment to a commission or a ministerial post. Thus you’ll have both your intelligence and freedom to throw your creativity at the noses of your former colleagues. If they aren’t happy with these teachings from our school, they can always commit suicide. It’s their most precious right, yours being, don’t ever forget it, to pronounce their funeral orations.

I still have lots of excellent counsel to give you but in order to maintain the full strength and vigor of my love for work, I must use it very sparingly.

At any rate, my good friends, words never risk being wrong, only actions can be poorly done: You, therefore, are by the nature of your work protected from all error.

If I wasn’t beginning to feel a bit tired, I would explain my third secret, that is, more precisely, the nature of all the mistakes plaguing mankind. However, I will restrain myself and give it to you without comment; on a silver platter, envied by those who are jealous of me: In all things, make sure you only give advice and let others follow through. Thus you will always be right without ever tiring yourself.

Diogenes