“To lie down in the time of grief, to be quiet under the stroke of adverse fortune, implies a great strength. But I know of something that implies a strength greater still. It is the power to work under stress, to continue under hardship, to have anguish in your spirit and still perform daily tasks” (George Matheson).
IN ITS MOST BASIC SENSE, TO “PERFORM” AN ACTION SIMPLY MEANS TO “DO” IT. But there are some special meanings of the word that we would benefit from thinking about. For instance, to perform can mean not only beginning something but carrying it through to completion (The physician performed surgery). And it can mean accomplishing something that was expected or promised (The contractor performed all aspects of the agreement). Thinking of “performance” in these ways, isn’t it clear how valuable it would be as a character trait?
You may not have thought about performance as having anything to do with your relationships with other people, but it has a lot to do with them. In fact, healthy human relationships are impossible if the parties don’t do, or perform, what is necessary. In the real world, those who can’t be counted on (1) to do what is expected, or (2) to carry things through to completion are usually people with a long list of ex-friends. In the words of Owen Feltham, “Promises may get friends, but it is performance that must nurse and keep them.”
Paul C. Packer wrote, “It is our individual performances, no matter how humble our place in life may be, that will in the long run determine how well ordered the world may become.” If we want to make a difference for good in the world while we live here, the best way to do that is not to aspire to great deeds that will make the evening news but simply to perform — that is, do our duties faithfully, however simple or unimportant they may seem to be at the time.
We ought to be, as the old saying goes, “slow to promise and quick to perform.” Commitments carelessly entered into often go unfulfilled. But if we are careful in saying what we will do, then the performance of what we said is a powerful thing, much more powerful than the boasts and bluster of those who promise but never perform. There is an ancient adage that warns, “Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off.” That’s well worth pondering.
“An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise” (W. D. Howells).