04 February 2013

How busy are we?

A few years ago, on a liner bound for Europe, I was browsing in the library when I came across a puzzling line by Robert Louis Stevenson: "Extreme busyness, whether at school, kirk, or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality." Surely, I thought, "deficient" is a mistake--he must have meant "abundant." But R.L.S. went merrily on, "It is no good speaking to such folk: they can not be idle, their nature is not generous enough."

Was it possible that a bustling display of energy might only be a camouflage for a spiritual vacuum? The thought so impressed me that I mentioned it next day to the French purser, at whose table I was sitting. He nodded his agreement. "Stevenson is right," he said. "Indeed, if you will pardon my saying so, the idea applies particularly to you Americans. A lot of your countrymen keep so busy getting things done that they reach the end of their lives without ever having lived at all."

Arthur Gordon


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