Ever so often people ask me “How do you get so much work done?” I am usually tempted to answer along the lines of “I don’t really get all that much work done. Yesterday I only worked for about 4 hours and most days I don’t get any work done because it’s summer and my daughter is home and …” but I have learned over the years that that’s not the answer people want. They don’t want to hear about being a single mother and having 4-hour stretches to work on good days. They want to know how I get the work done I do get done in spite of being a single mother, owning two attention-seeking cats and all that.
Though I always knew what kind of answer people wanted, I didn’t quite know how to present it until yesterday ((Think Lewis on knowledge without belief). I was in my usual working spot: Kaldi’s in Downtown Clayton. One of my local cohorts was there as well. “I am not going out drinking the next three weeks,” I boldly stated. “Really!?!” She responded, “You are not even going to have a drink on Fourth of July?” I had just agreed to go to her Fourth of July party, so my statement may have come across as rude. “Don’t worry” I replied. “I don’t normally keep my own promises”. She looked relieved but also puzzled. But it really isn’t all that puzzling.
I am not weak-willed. In fact, I have no trouble keeping promises, including those I make to myself. But I make two types of promises. There are the promises I would not break under any circumstances. I would stick to them regardless of what sorts of torture you were to expose me to. I will always love and care for my daughter. I will never pass on the secrets you tell me. I will never intentionally harm you. I will never commit a felony. And so on. Then there are the promises I break once in a while. I don’t make those promises to others. That wouldn’t be fair. But I do make them to myself, and I do express them to others. For example, I will check the ‘vegetarian’ box for the banquet at the annual meeting of the Central States Philosophical Association and then consume five oysters.
I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons, yet I cheat. In Australia I usually upgraded to seafood to make it easier to be part of the food-sharing dinners that followed the talks. At Angela’s wedding I promised her to taste the wedding lamb – maybe the first time I tasted lamb.
I call myself a Forgiving Moralist. What’s the point? Why not simply be less moralistic and avoid the cheating. My answer: It doesn’t really work for me. I tried it. Once I allow myself upfront to make exceptions, I make too many. Cheating is more difficult. I must forgive myself and promise myself not to do it again or in some cases promise not to make other exceptions. Because cheating is difficult, it doesn’t occur very often.
I suppose that’s my “trick”. I promise myself to work hard, eat vegetarian food, say “no” to invitations to go out to bars or attend parties certain weeks or months, and so on. Yet I might watch a movie at night instead of working, eat sushi on Saturdays and attend my cohort’s Fourth of July party. But for me, cheating is not an excuse to give up on my principles. When you fall off the horse, you get back up and ride even faster. Or so my dad always told me. And he is – I must admit – always right.