When I was in high school, I overheard two of my classmates discussing assignments for a course. The gist of what they were saying was, how could they pass the class while doing the least amount of work possible? In other words, how can we get by while doing only what is absolutely required?
It seemed like a good life lesson to me at the time, because my goal was always to feel good about whatever grade I got and sometimes it was an easy A and other times it was a hard C. I wasn’t an overachiever by any means, but I did step up and take a challenge every once in a while. But why did I do that?
There were many times where I could have just done the bare minimum, like my former classmates, and done fine. Yet, I spent the extra hours doing what seemed like useless busy work or repetitious assignments for some reason.
I ask, because these questions require a broader scope. Why do people take jobs that pay less money and have long hours? Why does someone recycle if law does not require it? Why eat vegetables if you can just have juice every day? Why talk to an American Civil Liberties Union canvasser when you can just pass them by like they didn’t exist? Why clean the dishes in the sink if they weren’t even yours to clean?
We can all get by doing the bare minimum, and it is really attractive sounding. We can graduate college, get a mediocre job, save some money, get a car, get a mortgage, marry, have a kid, go on camping trips, drive to the beach, retire (if you’re lucky), go to Italy, then die peacefully in your sleep. Of course, it’s not that simple, and there will be bumps along the way, but these bumps are insignificant in the long run.
What prevents us from doing something that is ethically necessary, or what keeps us from doing something we really don’t want to do, but know it’ll help people eventually or in general? The possibility of failure, I guess, is one factor that keeps us from going further than the bare minimum required for life.
With any challenge, there is a risk factor of extra effort for no tangible reward. Even with a non-tangible reward, like feeling generous, it doesn’t provide a lasting feeling quite like a material thing is thought to do, at least for a little longer.
I get the sense that not a whole lot of people do the bare minimum though. I like to think that people try hard to do things they feel passionate about, whether there be a reward or not. After all, we are humans and therefore similar in many respects. I think people would have an easier time choosing their paths in life by asking questions that are morality shaping, such as “Who does this help?” and “Does this incur or prevent suffering on some other end?”
We can even qualify the questions into philosophical groupings like preference utilitarianism or like the last “Mull on That” article — providing positivity to your local climate by acknowledging “nothingness.”
No matter how you live your life, that is whether you seek out challenges, or you avoid them for the sake of leisure (which is still very important), just consider the possibilities of whether you harm or help people or non-human animals for another matter and try to do what is best for yourself and others.
Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at [email protected].
“Mull On That” publishes biweekly.