Functionality (October 11)


“And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful” (Letter of Paul to Titus).

FUNCTIONALITY DOESN’T HAVE A VERY WARM AND WELCOME SOUND TO IT, DOES IT? It sounds like business-speak or techno-speak, rather than the kind of thing a poet or an adventurer would talk about. But before you skip today’s reading, think a little further.

If something “functions,” it “works.” Functional things are helpful. So applying that idea to people rather than things, we might say that functionality is the ability to do things that others find helpful. The more functionality we acquire, the more helpful we can be.

I have long liked the metaphor of the toolbox, in which our knowledge and abilities are our tools. The tools in our toolbox enable us to be useful to others. On the other hand, if it seems that those around us don’t find us helpful, it may be that we’ve never learned how to do anything that anybody needs to have done. If we haven’t worked to gain any functionality, we can’t contribute to the world.

Functionality has two main meanings, both of which are good.

Operative. If we say that an appliance, for example, is functional, we might mean that it is in good working order. Although we are people and not appliances, we ought to try to keep our personal systems functional — rather than letting them become dysfunctional.

Serviceable. The appliance we mentioned, however, might be functional in that it is practical or handy. And here again, there is a personal application. The happiest people in the world are those who find ways to be of service. They know how to be “handy” to others.

We owe it to those around us to acquire as much functionality as possible as long as we live. The more functions we can perform, the more beneficial we can be, and that gets pretty close to the meaning of life, doesn’t it? Although under many circumstances work can become hard and unpleasant, work itself is not the problem and we ought to consider it a blessing. “Work is not primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do” (Dorothy L. Sayers). So we ought to want to be as functional as possible for as long as possible. As Richard Cumberland said, “It is better to wear out than to rust out.”

“To live is to function” (Oliver Wendell Holmes).

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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