Organizing Philosphy From A Literary Classic: Three Men In A Boat
Paper Doll is spending a solitary, soon-to-be-rainy, Sunday perusing a fictionalized travelogue circa 1889–Jerome K. Jerome‘s Three Men In a Boat. I’ve known of the book for years, heard it praised as one of the classics of English humor, and even seen it referenced in a favorite time-travel novel by Connie Willis, To Say Nothing Of The Dog, but only recently managed to pick it up.
I’ve been generally pleased by the pace, and the gentle English humor still holds up today (as slight sarcasm never goes out of style), but imagine my surprise to find a philosophical delight for professional (and amateur) organizers everywhere, amid chapter three:
The first list we made out had to be discarded. It was clear that the
upper reaches of the Thames would not allow of the navigation of a boat
sufficiently large to take the things we had set down as indispensable;
so we tore the list up, and looked at one another!
“You know we are on a wrong track altogether. We must not think of the
things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do
George comes out really quite sensible at times. You’d be surprised. I
call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but
with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally. How many
people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of
swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the
pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless
How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big
houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not
care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for;
with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and
fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest
lumber of all! – the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries
that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the
criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head
that wears it!
It is lumber, man – all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat
so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so
cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom
from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness -
no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or
the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the
great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods
all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-
waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.
Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with
only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two
friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat,
a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little
more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.
You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable
to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain
merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to
work. Time to drink in life’s sunshine – time to listen to the AEolian
music that the wind of God draws from the human heart-strings around us -
time to -
I beg your pardon, really. I quite forgot.
Well, we left the list to George, and he began it.
It further helps that I am imagining the wonderful Hugh Laurie (with his true English accent and not his also-adorable Gregory House grumble) as the narrator. (What, you think Paper Doll ought to be true in her affections solely to Mr. Clooney?)
Nonetheless, as you enjoy your summer and we approach a holiday week (here in the U.S.), I encourage you to ask yourself — what’s in your boat?