By David Hegg
Someone has said “you will always have time to do the things you really need to do.” I’m not sure that is always accurate, but I do appreciate the underlying sentiment. Too often we buy the myth that we need more time when actually we just need to be more disciplined with the time we have.
Years ago, when I was employed in the financial industry, I was charged to teach a time management class for our managerial staff. I doubt many of those who attended learned much that was new, but we did agree on some basic truths that all too often we push to the backwoods of our minds. The first was this: Everyone in the world has the same amount of time. As a result, time is one of the most valuable resources we have simply because it is limited in supply. No matter how wealthy you may be, you can never buy more time. You can’t get more of it. You can only work to make the most of it.
The key to making the most of our time is discipline. By this I mean the harnessing of our will by our mind so our energies are directed toward that which is most important. Of course, this also means first exercising the discipline of planning so we can accurately assess just what is most important. And, moving backwards still further, this will mean having in mind what the end goal is, so we can determine what will make certain tasks important in the first place.
In the field of architecture there is a well-known dictum: form follows function. That means before you decide on the form of the building you should determine what function it needs to accomplish. The same rings true for deciding just how to parcel out your time and energy. First decide what needs to be accomplished; then determine how best to accomplish it; and finally discipline yourself so your energies are directed at getting the right things done.
Of course, this all seems so simple, so logical, so easily agreed to, at least in my mind. That’s why it is such a wonder that too often our nationally elected officials appear to be completely ignorant of this common strategy. Figure out what needs to be done; determine how to do it; and then … do whatever it takes to make your opponents look bad and you look good and get so involved in debate, posturing, and slander that eventually you forget the end game, and hope the public does too. As so many have said before “if you ran your home or your company like that you’d be single and bankrupt.” And apparently, as a country, we’re about halfway there already.
So, what is the answer? Of course, it would be wrong to suggest that a simple opinion column could come close to changing all of the very real, deeply entrenched, and harmful patterns of governmental behavior that are seemingly choking our national neck and making the future look bleak. But I will offer one word: discipline. We need a disciplined strategy of daily life that starts in our homes, seeps into our children’s worldview and study habits, and as well, becomes the starting place for decision-making in our nation’s capital. The first discipline is to live within the confines of what you know you must do. The second is always to do it well and on time. And the third is to do it in a way that lays the groundwork for future success.
Discipline is one of those things whose benefit is inversely proportionate to the pain it brings. Whether it is trying to lose weight, gain fitness, or live within a budget, the more painful the decision to do the right thing is, the greater will be the long-term benefit. But our problem is we’ve come to believe that any pain is unacceptable. We’ve given ourselves over to the myth that life is meant to be easy, and that discipline is really a limitation on personal expression.
Well guess what? Discipline is exactly that, and more. It is the determination to curb today’s selfishness in favor of tomorrow’s security. It is self-limiting; in fact it is self-denying. The only hope we have as a nation of getting off the dangerous path we’re on is to say “no” to our inner sense of entitlement, determine that we’re going to master our wills, and then set them energetically to do the best things rather than the easy things. And who knows? If it starts with us — the rank and file — maybe it will filter up to those who make the decisions that will determine our future.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.