Manuel needs to be busy. If he is not, he thinks that his life has no meaning, that he’s wasting his time, that society no longer needs him, that no one loves or wants him.
So, as soon as he wakes up, he has a series of tasks to perform: to watch the news on television (something might have happened in the night); to read the newspaper (something might have happened during the day yesterday); to tell his wife not to let the children be late for school; to take the car or catch a taxi or a bus or the metro, all the time thinking hard, staring into space, looking at his watch or, if possible, making a few calls on his mobile phone, and ensuring that everyone can see what an important man he is, useful to the world.
Manuel arrives at work and sits down to deal with the paperwork that awaits him. If he’s an employee, he does his best to make sure that his boss has seen that he’s arrived on time. If he’s a boss, he sets everyone to work immediately. If there are no important tasks to be done, Manuel will invent them, create them, come up with a new plan, develop new lines of action.
Manuel goes to lunch, but never alone. If he is a boss, he sits down with his friends and discusses new strategies, speaks ill of his competitors, always has a card up his sleeve, complains (with some pride) of overwork. If Manuel is an employee, he, too, sits down with his friends, complains about his boss, complains about the amount of overtime he’s doing, states with some anxiety (and with some pride) that various things in the company depend entirely on him.
Manuel – boss or employee – works all afternoon. From time to time, he looks at this watch. It’s nearly time to go home, but he still has to sort out a detail here, sign a document there. He’s an honest man and wants to justify his salary, other people’s expectations, the dreams of his parents, who struggled so hard to give him a good education.
Finally, he goes home. He has a bath, puts on some more comfortable clothes, and has supper with his family. He asks after his children’s homework and what his wife has been doing. Sometimes, he talks about his work, although only to serve as an example, because he tries not to bring his work problems home with him. They finish supper, and his children – who have no time for examples, homework, or other such things – immediately leave the table and go and sit down in front of the computer. Manuel, in turn, goes and sits down in front of that piece of apparatus from his childhood called the television. He again watches the news (something might have happened during the afternoon).
He always goes to bed with some technical book on his bedside table – whether he’s a boss or an employee, he knows that competition is intense, and that anyone who fails to keep up to date runs the risk of losing his job and facing that worst of all curses: having nothing to do.
He talks a little to his wife; he is, after all, a nice, hard-working, loving man who takes care of his family, and is prepared to defend it whatever the circumstances. He falls asleep at once, and he sleeps knowing that he will be very busy tomorrow, and that he needs to rebuild his energies.
That night, Manuel has a dream. An angel asks him: ‘Why are you doing this?’ He replies that it’s because he’s a responsible man.
The angel goes on: ‘Would you be capable of taking at least fifteen minutes of your day to stop and look at the world, and at yourself, and simply do nothing?’ Manuel says that he would love to do that, but he doesn’t have time. ‘You’re lying to me’, says the angel. ‘Everyone has time to do that. It’s just that they don’t have the courage. Work is a blessing when it helps us to think about what we’re doing; but it becomes a curse when its sole use is to stop us thinking about the meaning of our life’.
Manuel wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Courage? How can a man who sacrifices himself for his family not have the courage to stop for fifteen minutes a day?
It’s best to go back to sleep. It was just a dream; these questions will get him nowhere; and tomorrow he’s going to be very, very busy.
By Paulo Coelho