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