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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Don't Be a Bartleby

Do you know Bartleby?

He is the protagonist of Herman Melville's "long short story" entitled "Bartleby, the Scrivener: a Story of Wall Street."

Bartleby has been hired as a kind of clerk in a law office. His duties include writing out documents and other, less-important, tasks.

At first a model employee, Bartleby eventually begins to refuse the lesser tasks, performing only his writing chores. When asked to do anything else, he replies with his signature phrase: "I would prefer not to."

Eventually, he "would prefer not to" perform even his main job. When fired, he "would prefer not to" vacate the premises, so his boss moves offices. The new tenant has him arrested as he still "would prefer not to" leave. Finally, in jail, he "would prefer not to" eat, and wastes away and dies.

Bartleby's mantra, "I would prefer not to," has been seen as a sign of depression--and as a summation of the human condition. Many of us "would prefer not to" participate in the wild adventure of Life, and so sit on the sidelines, watching as the parade passes.

That way lies death.

So roll up your shirtsleeves and get in there. Partake of everything Life throws at you, the great tasks and the small. Don't be a Bartleby.

You'll be happier.