The Seven Virtues #5 Diligence

I went to the internet to look for quotes about hard work. As you would expect, they are many, and not just from any old minor celebrity but from the good and great. Here’s the first, A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work. Colin Powell.

Without fail, they say, hard work is the key to success. We applaud the hard working and castigate the lazy.

Diligence, the supposed synonym for work, is one of the 7 virtues and the opposite to the capital sin of sloth. We all hate sloth.

Like all parents, mine extolled me to work harder with the promise of greater returns. Their pleas had limited success and they settled in a cosy contentment if I did any school homework, but they knew when it came to sports I would practice endlessly. I had a diligent gene somewhere.

Like parents, like son, and I paced the corridors outside my children’s rooms checking on them. I was very proud of Ben’s diligence until he later admitted that most of the time he was playing computer games. Another myth exploded. With Lucinda and Maddie, I finally outsourced the task by sending them to a boarding school.

It’s what we do. We encourage hard work because it is self-evidently true. The harder we work the greater the riches. Proof from Margaret Thatcher. I do not know anyone who has got to the top without hard work. That is the recipe. It will not always get you to the top, but it should get you pretty near.

I went to a public school (for my American readers it means I went to a private school), the Victorian hothouses for the work ethic which we exported all over the world with our colonial Empire. It worked for a time but by the mid-1970s even the British had lost the will to work.

The rest of the world took up the mantle. The Japanese have a reputation for working harder than most nations. There are stories of offices being closed at 8 pm to stop its staff from working through the night. But, the Japanese are not now the hardest working nation. In fact, they are the 11th on the international list. At 2,193 hours per annum, the South Koreans are at work longest. To save you hunting for a calculator that is 42 hours per week, every week of the year.

But is hard work the axiom for the modern world success? Is it true?

There is an alternative mantra that the real skill is to work smarter and not harder. Again, I turned to the internet to check its popularity, saw there were 13,200,000 results and decided a case proven.

Smarter and not harder suits me fine. I will always spend a few moments looking for the easy way to do a job. Or, I will I will resort to Adam Smith and comparative advantage and find a valuable job that I can do easily to pay for someone else to do the work I find boring and hard.

However, neither of these approaches tackle the real issue.

We will always favour the hard worker over the lazy and working smarter is always good but maybe the real issue is focus. It doesn’t matter how you approach the task if it is the wrong task then you are wasting your time. Focus is the real virtue.

As we move into a society with increased automation and AI the definition and focus of our work will change. Work will start to take on many different, non-traditional forms. For example, increasingly we will see community work classed as ‘proper’ work. As societies break down we will place an increased emphasis on the work that builds stronger families and societies. Work on good parenting will be recognised as ‘proper’ work to be rewarded. Just ask Lucinda if she is working harder now looking after Bertie.

As I collected my internet quotes there was one that stood out and I wanted to include. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit into the flow of my argument, but it was too good to discard and so it is here at the end. It doesn’t say that hard work is good, it doesn’t support smarter work, it just says keep going. Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

The Seven Deadly Sins #4 Envy

Of all the ‘deadly sins’ envy is the most debilitating, sapping every ounce of sensible behaviour, compassion, rationality, and skewing every action. In moderation I might even encourage you to commit any of the other six sins, and I recommend, in particular a little bit of lust, but at all cost, avoid envy.

Envy is mostly centred on money. If only I had as much money as <insert any name you think of here> I could go on holiday six times a year. Maybe it wouldn’t be six times a year. Maybe I would be on one long holiday. Pay differentials, big houses, happiness, Kardashians. We can envy them all, but it does no good. If luck or hard work don’t succeed you are exactly where you are. Sit back and enjoy yourself. There is nothing more you can do.

However, the aspect of envy that frightens me most is jealousy and that is totally in your control.

I know I am being a little lax with my definitions. This is what the internet says: ‘The main difference between envy and jealousy is that envy is the emotion of coveting what someone else has, while jealousy is the emotion related to fear that something you have will be taken away by someone else.’ I hope language pedants will let me carry on.

There is an imaginary young couple and for this we will call them George and Lydia. In many ways George and Lydia are very normal. They have just bought their first home, and both are working. Lydia, has just been promoted and instead of congratulating and praising her all George can think about is what he is going to lose and how he is going to explain to his friends that she is more successful than him.  He punishes her in subtle and distressing ways.

And then there is Bill and Kathy. Kathy likes to go out occasionally with her girlfriends. It is just a drink, maybe after work, and only once or twice a month, but Bill insists that he knows where she is, who was there, what they did and every detail. He has even taken to turning up at the same place and trying to sit in with her. Kathy doesn’t like that.

Gina loves her partner, Mike, and is devoted to him. She is also an extrovert and loves partying while he is a little more reticent and hates Gina’s behaviour which culminated at one party in a huge scene when he shouted and accused her of being unfaithful and a slut. Neither of which were true.

As their love diminished, all three relationships finished.

These are not real couples, but composites of people I have met and the situations I have seen. It was so sad because all of this could have been avoided if jealousy had been managed and controlled.

I can speak with some authority on this issue because there was a time, in my late teens and early twenties when I was almost unable to operate as a social being because of jealousy. I could see small benefits in envy because it also fuelled ambition. I worked harder to get what others had but there was nothing good in jealousy. I still shudder as I remember those days. I knew it had to be eliminated totally from my life.

For me the solution was in Zen. How it happened and how I did it, is for another day but eliminating jealousy was the one of the best things I ever did.

The problem is that jealousy kills and removes the last vestige of trust which is at the corner stone of all that is good.

Sasha, is in Kiev and we meet far less frequently than I could ever hope. So far apart, if I had any hint of jealousy, then I would be as mad as a hatter. I could spend every moment wondering what she was doing and who with. Instead I have total trust and I don’t ever think my trust will be betrayed.

Of course, it may happen. For a thousand reasons it could happen, but if one day my trust is shown to be ill founded, then so be it. Then I will know there was never a real and lasting love and the pain at that loss, however great, will be far less than fighting jealousy every day.

Jealousy destroys the chance of love growing. Jealousy can always be replaced by positive actions and a powerful want to help your partner grow. Imbue the relationship with confidence, trust and positivity and wonderful things can start to happen.

George can gain pride from Lydia’s promotion. Bill may find that on the nights that Kathy is out he can watch the football, have some indulgent chips, or even go and have a beer with his friends. Mike can look at Gina and see how beautiful and admired she is.

Envy and jealousy are the most destructive and insidious of all emotions in any relationships. I have it under control but, even still, I am jealous of everyone who has the person they love next to them, but it will not drive me mad. All I can do is work harder to change our situation.

The Seven Deadly Sins: #2 Gluttony

Food is part of my earliest memories.

When, little more than a year old, I would stand on a chair and help my Granny bake cakes or we would go to the large covered market in Huddersfield to buy eggs, always hunting for those with double yokes. Later, I would help my mother with the Sunday roast lunch and was precocious enough to cook my first dinner party when I was 16. Two years later I was asked to run a restaurant, but decided instead to go to university.

Today, and on those rare occasions I feel stressed, cooking is often my release.

How much talent I have others will judge but I don’t need to measure out quantities. I can ‘mentally’ taste the food as it is cooking and make a meal from the ingredients available. I don’t need a recipe book, and this caused Annie a lot of frustration as it meant I could rarely recreate the same meal twice.

Does this make me sound like a foodie? Maybe. I like cooking, but the truth is that I am not too worried about eating!

I have always been offended by a plate overladen and totally covered by food.

That led me, in the 1980s, to the new food trend of ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ which was the alternative to ‘Cuisine Classique’. The food was lighter, delicate, well presented, and not piled on the plate. Then, I felt more comfortable eating out in restaurants but soon the trend was hijacked, and then restaurants served badly cooked food not even presented artistically. They were just small, badly cooked portions.

My own reaction was to read ‘Cuisine Gourmande’ by the French chef Michel Guerard (of course, in translation). This was a more classic French approach to cooking and the recipes, as I remember, always seemed to start with: take a pint of cream and a half pound of butter!! It was not for the cholesterolly challenged.

Eating with a group of friends at a Chinese or Indian restaurant with dishes laid out to help yourself makes me end up eating nothing. It is my worst nightmare. I am intimidated by all those arms and hands reaching out to grab the masala or rice. My strategy is to wait until they are all done and see what is left.

Modern hotels have not helped. I go to dinner and as soon as I see the buffet service, my spirt drops.

This summer Sasha and I went to a 5-star hotel in Turkey and the restaurant was busy and noisy – exactly the opposite of my first preference, but it was also self-service. To collect your food meant you had to take it turns. If we both left our table by the time we got back, there would be a family of four with two high chairs in our place and we were left wandering around, balancing plates but now also with wine glasses, looking for another table.

Surely one of the delights of eating out is to look at the menu together and decide on a meal together? But, in the self service you are left to walk back and forth with a ready, empty, warm plate, searching and scouring the eating options.

It is slightly easier for me because ten years ago I became a vegetarian and so normally ten or more meters of the options are immediately disregarded.

But I do have other peccadillos and there are bigger problems facing me.

Two or three sashimi or sushi as an aperitif, maybe followed by a small piece of plaice or cod with a light dill sauce is a perfectly acceptable prelude to a more substantial hot course. This was the choice I had in Turkey but to collect them all at once was greedy. Anyway, I don’t have enough hands or coordination to juggle all the different plates. To collect them one by one was impolite to Sasha as I would spend more time collecting food than eating it and talking with her.

When I travel to America it is always breakfast that I hate. The thought of steak and chips, early morning, is bad enough but watching other guests in the hotel piling a plate as if this was going to be their last ever meal removed any appetite I had.

I am fully aware of the expression: breakfast like a King, lunch like a Lord and dine like a pauper, but the truth is I rarely feel hungry until around midday. I am a product of my experiences and now I just eat when I am hungry, and I eat the quantity that makes me feel good.

However, these are individual preferences and if others want to eat too much, choose from an array of food larger and longer than anything served at a medieval banquet, it is their choice and nothing to do with me.

But this isn’t the real sin of gluttony.

Isn’t gluttony excessive consumption or waste of food when there are others who don’t have enough food for basic sustenance? Isn’t gluttony wasting resources which could be used to feed the more needy?

This is both a personal and Government problem. Tanzania was once known as the bread basket of Africa and was a net exporter of food to the rest of Africa. Now it is recipient of food aid.

In 2015 a report by Eurostat noted that each year the EU wasted 89.2 million tonnes of food and that the UK was the most wasteful of the EU’s 27-member states, wasting 14.3 million tonnes.

As consumers we have become obsessed by vegetables being just the right shape and if not, they are rejected by the supermarkets and then often thrown away. We grow and produce food and then waste it when there are millions around the world who are hungry and malnourished.

A funny shaped potato or carrot tastes just the same when peeled and cooked.

Tell the supermarkets to stop the ‘buy one, get one free’ offers if you know you will never eat the second and just throw it away.

Shop at supermarkets who don’t throw away food that is slightly past their ‘best by’ date but instead give it to food banks or others who can’t afford to buy to eat.

Teach children the joy of cooking fresh food and not how to assemble a readymade dish.

Support mothers to breast feed. Last week the NHS said thousands of new mothers will be “bribed up to £200 to breastfeed” in an attempt to increase rates across the country. Health experts said the scheme aims to tackle “stubbornly low” rates of breastfeeding in parts of the UK.

As far as I am concerned you can eat as much as you want, at any time of the day, just don’t ask me to be your guest if you pile my plate high and expect me to eat it all.

If you want to do something positive and avoid the sin of gluttony, then make sure that you don’t waste food.