The Word Foundation


Harold W. Percival



Purpose is the direction of force, the relation of thoughts and acts, the guiding motive in life, as the immediate object for which one strives, or the ultimate subject to be known; it is the intention in words or in action, complete attainment, the accomplishment of effort.

Work is action: mental or bodily action, the means and manner by which purpose is accomplished.

Those who are without any particular purpose in life, except to satisfy their immediate needs and to be amused, become the tools of those who have a purpose and know how to direct and use the purposeless ones to obtain their own ends. The purposeless ones can be decoyed and deceived; or made to work against their natural inclination; or they may even be led into disastrous entanglements. This is because they have no definite purpose according to which they think, and so they allow themselves to be used as forces and machines to be directed by those who have purpose and who think and direct and work with their human tools and machines to get what is desired.

This applies to all classes of people and to every stratum of human life, from the intelligent who fill desirable positions, to the actually stupid in any position. The many, who have no particular purpose, may be and will be instruments, tools: made to do the work of those who think and will and work to carry out their purpose.

The necessity for work is a blessing, not a penalty imposed on man. No purpose can be accomplished without action, work. Inaction is impossible in the human world. Yet there are people who strive for the impossible, who think and work hard to live without work. Having no purpose by which to steer their course by thinking, and for which to work, they are like flotsam and jetsam on the ocean. They float and drift here or there, they are blown or tossed in this or in that direction, until they are wrecked on the rocks of circumstance and sink into oblivion.

The search for pleasure by the idle is an arduous and unsatisfactory labor. One does not have to search for pleasure. There is no worthwhile pleasure without work. The most satisfying pleasures are found in useful work. Be interested in your work and your interest will become pleasure. Little, if anything, is learned from mere pleasure; but everything can be learned through work. All effort is work, whether it be called thinking, pleasure, work, or labor. The attitude or point of view distinguishes what is pleasure from what is work. This is demonstrated by the following occurrence.

A boy of thirteen who had been helping a carpenter in the building of a small summerhouse was asked:

“Do you want to be a carpenter?”

“No,” he replied.

“Why not?”

“A carpenter has to do too much work.”

“What kind of work do you like?”

“I don’t like any kind of work,” the boy promptly answered.

“Just what do you like to do?” queried the carpenter.

And with a ready smile the boy said: “I like to play!”

To see if he was as indifferent to play as he was to work, and as he volunteered no information, the carpenter asked:

“How long do you like to play? And what kind of play do you like?”

“Oh, I like to play with machines! I like to play all the time, but only with machines,” the boy replied with much spirit.

Further questioning revealed that the boy was at all times eager to labor with any kind of machinery, which he persistently called play; but any other kind of occupation he disliked and declared to be work, hereby giving a lesson in the difference between work that is pleasure and work in which one lacks interest. His pleasure was in helping to put machinery in order and make it function. If he had to squirm under an automobile, have his face and clothes smeared with grease, bruise his hands while twisting and hammering, well! that could not be avoided. But he “helped to make that machine run, all right.” Whereas sawing wood into certain lengths, and fitting them into the design of a summerhouse, was not play; it was “too much work.”

Climbing, diving, boating, running, building, golfing, racing, hunting, flying, driving—these can be work or play, employment or recreation, a means of earning money or a way of spending it. Whether occupation is drudgery or fun largely depends on one’s mental attitude or point of view concerning it. This was characterized in Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer,” who was made disconsolate by having to whitewash Aunt Sallie’s fence on a morning when his chums were to call for him to go with them for some fun. But Tom was equal to the situation. He got the boys to believe that whitewashing that fence was great fun. In return for letting them do his work, they gave Tom the treasures of their pockets.

To be ashamed of any honest and useful work is a discredit to one’s work, for which that one should be ashamed. All useful work is honorable and is made honorable by the worker who respects his work for what it is. Not that a worker need stress his being a worker, nor expect the standard of supreme excellence to be placed on work of minor importance and requiring little skill. The tasks performed by all workers have their proper places in the general scheme of things. And the work of most benefit to the public is deserving of greatest merit. Those whose work is to be of great public benefit are moreover least likely to stress their claims as workers.

The dislike of work leads to ignoble work, such as immorality or crime, and the effort to avoid work causes one to try to get something for nothing. The unnoticed subtleties of making oneself believe that one can get something for nothing interfere with, or prevent one from doing, useful or honest work. The belief that one can get something for nothing is a beginning of dishonesty. Trying to get something for nothing leads to deceit, speculation, gambling, the defrauding of others, and to crime. The law of compensation is that one cannot get something without giving or losing or suffering! That, in some way, soon or late, one must pay for what he gets or what he takes. “Something for nothing” is a hoax, a deception, a pretense. There is no such thing as something for nothing. To get what you want, work for it. One of the worst delusions of human life will be dispelled by learning that something cannot be had for nothing. One who has learned that is on an honest basis of living.

Necessity makes work inescapable; work is the urgent duty of men. Both the idle and the active work, but the idle get less satisfaction from their idling than the active get from working. Idling disqualifies; work accomplishes. Purpose is in all work, and the purpose in idling is to escape work, which is inescapable. Even in a monkey there is purpose in its acts; but its purpose and its acts are only for the moment. The monkey is not dependable; there is little or no continuity of purpose in what a monkey does. The human should be more responsible than the monkey!

Purpose is behind all mental or muscular action, all work. One may not relate the purpose to the act, but the relation is there, in the lifting of a finger as well as in the raising of a pyramid. Purpose is the relation and design of the concatenation of thoughts and acts from the beginning to the end of effort—be it the work of the moment, of the day, or of the life; it links all thoughts and acts of a life as in a chain, and connects thoughts with acts through the series of lives as in a chain of chains, from the beginning to the end of lives: from the first to the last of human lives of effort in the attainment of perfection.

The perfection of the Doer is attained by its conscious relation and union with its Thinker and Knower in the Eternal and at the same time, by its accomplishing its purpose in the great work of regenerating and resurrecting and raising its mortal body of death into an immortal body of everlasting life. The conscious Doer in its human body can refuse to consider its purpose in life; it can refuse to think about its work for accomplishment. But the purpose of every Doer rests with its very own inseparable Thinker and Knower in the Eternal while it adventures in exile in the time-world of senses, of beginnings and ends, of births and deaths. Eventually, by its own choice, and by its own Conscious Light, it wakes and determines to begin its work and to continue its efforts in the accomplishment of its purpose. As people advance in their establishing of genuine democracy they will understand this great truth.