“The beautiful rests on the foundation of the necessary” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
VERY MANY OF THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE COME FROM OUR EFFORT TO DEAL RIGHTLY, WISELY, AND HONORABLY WITH NECESSITY. When there is something that has to be done, that need provides an opportunity for the human spirit to soar. If, for example, human beings had never had to get from one place to another, there would be no such thing today as a Ferrari. And if human beings didn’t have to have some kind of place to dwell in, the creations of Frank Lloyd Wright would never have come into existence.
Now it’s an obvious fact that many people are content to serve necessity with ordinary utility rather than use it to create extraordinary beauty. Homespun usefulness is certainly of great value, and we ought not to despise it. But the fact remains, we owe many of the grandest achievements of our culture to necessity. And it would perhaps take some of the dread and drudgery out of our own days if we’d approach necessity more in the spirit of personal creativity.
A long time ago, Geoffrey Chaucer had one of his characters in The Canterbury Tales say, “Hold it wise . . . to make a virtue of necessity.” Today, we hear a lot about the importance of “design.” In the business world, it’s clear that the successful, thriving companies are those that look at the same everyday necessities that everybody else looks at and say, “What can we do to serve those ordinary needs in extraordinary ways?” Wouldn’t it make sense to apply that same philosophy to the way we each deal with our own daily necessities?
But on a more serious note, dealing with necessity can often be frightening, and sometimes even terrifying. One of the most paralyzing fears that comes upon us is the fear of suffering horrible, grievous loss as a result of doing something that could not be avoided. It may be, of course, that we’re simply deluding ourselves in thinking that a thing is necessary. But if we’re frightened by a thing to which there is really no honorable alternative, there is something that can encourage us: the knowledge that doing what is right is its own reward. It’s always right to do what is truly necessary — and the softest pillow in the world is the knowledge that we’ve done what was right.
“What is necessary is never a risk” (Cardinal de Reytz).