Saturday, February 03, 2007



By John Taylor; 2007 Feb 03

Yesterday, Friday, was a PD Day for the kids so I took the day off too. I had put off some blood work for months, so in the morning I did that along with Tomaso, who also had a blood test procrastinated from his yearly checkup last fall. Normally our seven-year-old is remarkably impervious to pain; trips, falls, scrapes are nothing to him, and as a matter of principle he eschews coats and hats in all but the coldest weather. But this time his mother's vicarious dread and his sister's none-too-encouraging anecdotes proved contagious. After long coaxing, bribing, cajoling and dragging, in the end he took the needle tearfully but stoically, gently held down by two nurses. The rest of the day he held his left arm limp, as if giving two sample vials had permanently paralyzed it. Only later, when we were swimming at Huntington Park Pool was he forced to forget his paralysis in order to keep his head above water. They allow balls and floats in this pool. Other families played catch but we, as always, pretended that I was a monster going for the ball and they had to pass it to each other to keep it away. I am in better shape now, and even did several lengths in the deep part; now I feel stiff in muscles I did not know that I still had.

When the Master was in California He gave a memorable funeral oration for the first American Baha'i, Thornton Chase. I will be including the full text of what He said in this or a future mail-out. When I say memorable, I mean that what He said there will surely go down in history with the likes of Pericles' Funeral Oration, except that instead of laying the foundations of democracy as an ideal, this oration explained the foundations of our goal and purpose in life.

What He said very briefly paraphrased was that we all have a purpose for coming into this world; when our life bears fruit, then it can end and we can die content, fulfilled, without regrets. Some may live for only a moment and still succeed in this spiritual fruit-bearing while others live a century steeped in hate and they, therefore, never approach the love of God that is the reason for our being. He gives the example of Christ, who lived only 33 years, contrasted with one of His opponents in the Jewish priesthood who named Him "Beelzebub." This priest lived to become a centenarian but never attained.

This gives me pause, in view of a conversation I had lately with a father of three older children than ours. His first two, a boy and a girl, did well throughout school but the youngest, though equally endowed with intelligence and ability, is struggling and getting failing grades because she procrastinates and does anything to avoid doing her homework. Some twist in her character is threatening, he worries, to ruin her entire life. For my friend procrastination is an unusual and strange problem, but in our family we are talking pretty much the norm. Which is why I found his problem jarringly bizarre.

The way things are in this information era no productive career can even start unless preceded by long, arduous years of study. The self-made person, the sort who learns on the job (often in a variety of apparently unrelated jobs) has been all but outlawed and credentialism reigns supreme. What makes you a success is one thing and one thing only, your ability to rise to the top in formal classes. This means that no procrastinator can hope ever to do what the Master said is our goal: to bear fruit in this world before we are taken from it.

The educational system is designed to throw students into a pit. To survive, they must compete and excel by contrast. In a sensible system, minimum individual learning goals would be kept in mind while teams worked together on real needs in society. As it is, if students make it on the backs of their peers, so much the better since that is more realistic preparation for the cutthroat world of business. Nobody stops to think that the world of business may be cutthroat because of the way we are educated. Under the artificial conditions of competitive exams, nobody can rely on the virtues of a good team player to help them succeed; no student has an interest in helping others. Indeed sharing of one's workload is called cheating, and is punishable by expulsion.

What distinguishes you from your competitors is how well you do alone, how high you are on the dog pile. If you can accomplish something in isolation, you do well, even if it is less than what could be done in a group. Learning is for and of yourself, not humankind. Some personalities do thrive under these Procrustean conditions but others, like my friend's daughter, have no natural inclination to work on their own. If that is the difference between success and failure, they fail every time.

Worst of all, a competitive environment marginalizes friendship. Cooperation and fidelity among students does them no good professionally. They learn this fast. As a result gregariousness has no benefit and a frenetic hedonism reigns. You get together with friends not to accomplish anything together but to drink or dope yourselves happy. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we compete. Gadabouts and layabouts are the best kind of company, for their amusement refreshes and in some measure compensates for the brutality of long, lonely hours studying, taking tests and trying to measure up.

At her fireside this week Mrs. Javid told an anecdote about Tahireh Naylor, who is presently serving with the Baha'i International Community at the UN. It seems that when she was in law school in London, Ontario they were having student council elections. As usual, they appointed candidates, who then competed in poster campaigns for votes from the student body.

"Why not do it a little differently this year? Instead of the old way, let us have the a poster campaign but instead of focusing on personalities, why put up posters to advertise the qualities we want in a student counsel member? Then we can have an open vote, without nominations. That way, nobody will `lose,' everybody will win in that all will a better idea of what serving on the counsel involves, what it does for students, and the qualities the members are striving for."

Amazingly, they took up her suggestion and had such a campaign, though we have no word on whether this was continued after she graduated. Myself, I would like to see an end to individual leaders completely. Only in national emergencies do individuals do better than groups, so why not recognize that fact? The whole idea of having one person "win" out over everybody else is offensive to any sincere republican's sentiments. Worst of all, the model of a lone man at the top is a bad example for students, or it would be if teachers were trying to teach cooperation instead of competition. As long as we worship individual leaders our system will continue weeding out all who hesitate to weed out.

I am digressing. I wanted to talk about procrastination but I just keep putting it off, I do not know why. What I meant to say was that putting things off is inimical to group planners as well as individual competitors. It is as dangerous to Baha'is as anybody, if not more. Think of history. The crowning moment, the fruit bearing time in Abdu'l-Baha's career came in the middle of the Great War when He sent out the Tablets of the Divine Plan. These turned responsibility over to the Baha'is. Suddenly our celerity in carrying out a Plan became our fruit, and His fruit. To procrastinate is to fail spiritually and materially.

In an effort to suggest ways to break addiction to procrastination, here is a list of standard suggestions for ending it that I found on the Net. I include the full text and at the end I note how each of these techniques fits in as an aspect of the divine Teachings.

The Top 10 Ways to Overcome Procrastination - By Jennifer Koretsky


When a person is bored or uninterested, certain tasks and projects can seem like torture! This feeling usually leads to procrastination, and procrastination often leads to guilt. Here are some practical ways to avoid these situations and overcome procrastination:

1. Recharge Daily

Be sure to get enough sleep and rest each day so that you have the necessary energy you need to accomplish your tasks.

2. Get a Friend Involved

It's harder to procrastinate when another person is involved. If you have a task you aren't looking forward to, invite a friend over to help you out. If you have errands to run, find a buddy who you can run errands with.

3. Reward Yourself

You're much more likely to complete that boring task if there is a dinner out or a new CD waiting for you when (and only when) the task is complete.

4. Do Things in Pieces

Procrastination often comes from feelings of overwhelm. Break tasks, even small ones, into steps so that they are manageable and provide you with a sense of direction.

5. Use Music

Turn on some fun and upbeat music and let it pump you up! 80s music and showtunes are often great pick-me-ups that will give you needed energy to tackle your tasks.

6. Don't Be Afraid to do Two Things at Once

Don't be afraid to balance routine or monotonous tasks with something that is more likely to hold your interest. You can pay bills while you watch TV, or talk on the phone while cleaning up the house.

7. Delegate

Do you find yourself procrastinating on chores at home like cleaning and laundry? Or maybe paperwork at the office? Delegate them! Kids, cleaning people, laundry services, administrative assistants and more are all available to take some of those boring tasks off your list and free up your time for the stuff you'd rather be doing.

8. Prioritize

Perhaps you're procrastinating on a task because it's really not that important. Maybe you'd love to re-organize your book shelves, but never get around to it. If it sounds like a good idea but in the end it's really not that important to you, don't let it hang over your head.

9. Get in Touch with the End Result

Before you begin a task or project that has high procrastination potential, get in touch with the outcome. When the task is finished, what will that mean to you? What will be better in life as a result?

10. Just Do It!!

Don't think about it too much, just jump in and get it done!

The Top 10 Anti-procrastination Techniques as Aspects of Faith

1. Recharge Daily: daily morning, evening and obligatory prayers; taking of self into account. A morning visit to the friendly neighborhood Mashriq, once built, would supercharge daily.

2. Get a Friend Involved: Baha'is are called "friends" for a reason. The Divine teachings aim right at improving the quality of our relationships, and not only for amusement.

3. Reward Yourself: Baha'u'llah taught that materialist civilization emphasizes punishment while ignoring rewards. An integrated reward system would eliminate bad habits born of negativity and punishment dominating human motivation. It would reduce over-reliance on personal rather than social resources.

4. Do Things in Pieces; Again, rewards should intersperse broken up tasks. This results from an organized society hard-wired for love, trust and fairness between citizens and government.

5. Use Music; the entire artistic and entertainment industries should be structured to involve people in both making and enjoying uplifting, inspiring art. This must be built into each home and workplace.  If under a totalitarian state subjects go nowhere without an ID card, in a republic of responsible citizens nobody would be caught dead without their own daily plan, made up both on their own and in consultation with others.

6. Don't Be Afraid to do Two Things at Once; this is the "service in both worlds" promised at the end of the Tablet of Ahmad. The principle of moderation applies to culture, civilization and organization and allows for spontaneity, impulsiveness and variety. These are spices that complete the good life.

7. Delegate; we learn to delegate too late because of how we are educated. Prayer gets us used to talking to God, the big boss who does the Most Great Delegation. Idolatry got us used to too sharp a division between your job and mine. The most important jobs are done together, in flocks, without need to delegate.

8. Prioritize; Taking consultation as a spiritual expression is a law of God. The taking of self into account is the cornerstone to firmness in the covenant.

9. Get in Touch with the End Result; that is, the five steps of prayer, which as the guardian explained, involves visualizing the prayer as answered.

10. Just Do It! That is the beauty of morning prayers, we have done our ethereal dreaming already and can afford to be practical when the time is right to focus only on what can be done now.

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