Charles Handy asks: what if we called lockdown a sabbatical?
Many years ago now, I was sitting on our terrace in the apartment we owned in Tuscany, and I looked at the scrappy little bit of green grass growing below the terrace.
I thought, how nice it would be to turn it into a decent lawn. I went back to England, photographed our lawn in Norfolk, brought the picture back, showed it to Dino, our Italian gardener, and said, “Dino, I’d like the lawn to look like this”.
When we came back later that summer, I was horrified to find the lawn covered in weeds, daisies, and dandelions.
I said to Dino, “what happened, why didn’t you cut it like I showed you?”
He said, “oh, but that would have destroyed all the lovely flowers.”
“What flowers?” I asked. He pointed and I looked at the lawn through his eyes and I saw, yes, he was right: the dandelions and the daisies looked lovely against the background of the dark green grass. They weren’t weeds; they were flowers.
So, I left it alone and in future I would invite my visitors to come and sit on what I christened my “lawn of flowers”.
They thought it was delightful. I thought, well, well, well: just call something a different name and you see it differently.
Now that we are in lockdown, as it’s called, I think of it to myself as an overdue sabbatical. This is the word academics use for holidays when they do some catching up work, which comes every seven months, or seven years.
According to Leviticus 25, Jews in the Land of Israel must take a year-long break from working the fields every seven years. So when my friends ring me up and say how are you doing, I say, “I am enjoying my sabbatical very much.” “Lucky you they say, we are in lockdown, and it’s hell.” “Ah I say, well just name it differently and you might think of it differently. Call it your honeymoon.”
They thought I was joking of course. But I am serious.
There are other examples. I wondered what would happen if we called income tax “a donation to the nation’s wellbeing” rather than tax. Might we think better about it?
I talked to my accountant. I said, “if I were to go on to the Just Giving website and if there were a fund called Donations to the National Wellbeing and I donated the equivalent of a month’s tax on a regular basis, would that be good do you think?”
He said, “not only good, it would be very beneficial because it would count as a donation and it would be deducted from your normal tax payments so it would reduce your final tax bill.”
So I thought, if I start doing that, not only would I feel good about it as a donor to the country’s future wellbeing, but also, when I get the final tax return, I will look at it with joy because it will be so little.
Maybe I should suggest this to the government but in future, I am going to call my tax my voluntary donation and see if just calling it that will make a difference to the way I feel about it.
So, think about it.
Give things a nice name and you will like them more.
Charles Handy is one of the giants of contemporary thought. His books on management have sold over a million copies and have changed the way we view business and society. His latest book, 21 Letters, is now available in paperback and on audiobook. Read more here.