Diligence is one of the most underrated of human values. Some people think diligence is just being busy. It reminds me of the old Communist proverb. “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” There is a lot more to being diligent than being busy. A good way to understand its importance is to examine what happens without it. The opposite of diligence is laziness, and neglect. One could argue that if I put off something until tomorrow, there is no big deal, because its my time and my life. However, it could be costly. If I buy an airline ticket, the longer I wait, the higher the prices go. I put off stopping to fill my gas tank, and the next day found the prices had risen by 15 cents a gallon. In an age of inflation, the sooner you make your purchases, the better. But this is not the worst part about not being diligent.
Not being diligent can have a disheartening effect on other people. People build up expectations and look forward to good things. They have hopes for good and blessing. When we don’t do what people were counting on us to do, it can rob them of hope and make them lose heart. I promised to get an article done for a project, and because of the tyranny of the urgent, never got to it. I didn’t realize how much the person was counting on it, and when I said it wouldn’t be ready, they were disappointed. Creating disappointment in someone is not a good thing.
In Eastern Europe, it can be even worse. You don’t even have to make a promise. Just mention you might do something and they are already expecting it. On one trip, I didn’t realize people had expectations of what I would bring when I came. Seeing the crestfallen expressions on the faces of my friends tore at my heart. I want to be a help and a source of hope, not the cause of disappointment in others. Thomas Hardy observed, “The sudden disappointment of a hope leaves a scar which the ultimate fulfillment of that hope never entirely removes.” We do damage to people when we disappoint.
This makes me want to be more diligent about things I commit myself to do. Before I leave for Eastern Europe, I ask my co-workers to speak to the people we are visiting and ask what they are expecting me to bring or do, and I make sure to do it. If I promise someone an article, I make sure I do it. We need to build people up, and not let them lose heart. You can’t build people up with excuses and regrets.
Sometimes we underestimate the importance of our presence. We host a Chavurah in our home on Shabbat afternoons. When people come, it’s always a blessing and encouragement. Their commitment encourages everyone else who comes. When people blow it off and give excuses why they didn’t come, we always understand, but it sends a message that they didn’t value the gathering enough to show up. One afternoon, we were preparing for the upcoming Chavurah meeting after a week when only one couple showed up. My wife expressed that this was a lot of work if no one was coming. I encouraged her to do this as service to God and not to worry. That Shabbat, eight people showed up, and the one following that, we had almost 20. People showing up was a tremendous boost, and made our service for HaShem more of a blessing. Diligence means being there. Sending regrets only produces regret. For this reason, I alway make it a point to visit people in the hospital, and go to weddings, Bar Mitzvot, and funerals. It lets people know I care and that I value them. If you don’t really care, you don’t show up. It’s a ministry of presence.
Diligence builds character, and blesses others. Be there, and do what you can to be a blessing when you get there. This is the teaching of Torah. Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” The issue is not how busy we are, but what effect do we want to have on the lives of others? Be diligent and build the house that will endure forever.
Also posted in Riverton Mussar: A Wellspring for Ethical Change