’I have done my best.’ That is about all the philosophy of living one needs.
I first learned of Lin Yutang in the long-ago days of my 20s, when a coworker came in with a photocopy of the section “The Importance of Loafing” from his remarkable book The Importance of Living. It was so different from American thought that I believed it was satire at first. Especially when he talked about how Chinese editors would deliberately leave some mistakes for readers to catch. But something I’ve learned over the years since is that Chinese and Japanese whimsy conceals a lot of very serious thought. You’ll likely see that for yourself if you ever read The Importance of Living.
Dr. Lin brought Chinese thought to the American consciousness back around the 1930s. He also figured out how to design a typewriter that can write in Chinese. This is no small matter for a language written with thousands of individual characters rather than an alphabet.
The above quote resonates for me, not least because the one true thing I’d like etched into whatever little memorial plaque marks my passing is “Quantum in me fuit,” which roughly translates to “I did the best I could.” Most of us would like to be able to say that. The nice thing is, and as you’ll learn if you ever read Liu Yutang’s delightful book, doing our best doesn’t mean we can’t spend an entire afternoon doing absolutely nothing:
If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.