In Search of The “Duh”

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis writes of the “tao,” a universal sense of morality humans all seem to have naturally. Borrowing a term from taoism, Lewis argues that the core similarities in all human expectation of fairness shows that we have some absolutely morality. This is the tao.

I have discovered a more flexible extension of the tao. I call it the “duh.” I began noticing it when I was engaged, and I got a nasty cold. My fiancé stayed by my side for several days, even sometimes while I slept. When I woke up, he made sure I was taken care of. I thanked him, and he just looked at me and said, “Duh.”

He continued to say “duh” instead of “you’re welcome” for several months, until I finally pointed out to him that that wasn’t a valid response. He told me he was responding that way because I didn’t need to thank him for doing what anybody would do.

But, as I pointed out, he wasn’t doing what anybody would do. He was doing what anybody should do. Most people don’t have their act together all (or even most) of the time. I had dated guys before who would have just sent me a “get better” text and left me alone for a few days to recover. He was only doing what he should – but compared to most people, he was going above and beyond.

This is not to say that my husband is the only person who has achieved “duh” enlightenment. We all, through our own experiences and choices, develop our “duh” in different ways. I once emailed a professor to explain that I was helping a friend with emotional challenges through the night, and didn’t have time to do the homework for her class. She held me after class the next day – not to discuss my homework – but to make sure I had the phone number for the campus on-call counselor, and information about free services. An employer of mine once pulled me aside to talk when she noticed I was having a bad day. Both of these people thought this was the obvious thing to do; neither of them realized how rare it was for anyone else to do them.

In order to become good people, we need two things: priorities and practice. First, the priorities: people come first. If a person is in trouble, but your dinner might get cold, you choose the person. Duh. People over food. If your roommate’s having a seizure, but your homework is overdue, take care of your roommate. People over grades. If a person is in trouble, but it would inconvenience you, weigh it out. If you’ll do more good for them by helping than for yourself by not helping, do it.

Second, practice. 2+2 is a “duh” kind of question, once you’ve passed kindergarten, but for kindergartners, it’s a mind-blowing concept. If you realize your priorities have been off, figure out what you should do, and try. It doesn’t become the obvious solution until you’re in the habit, but once it’s habitual, it becomes easy.

I’m not saying the answer to all questions lies in doing the most obvious thing – but I think it’s a lot easier than we all think. Most of the time, when we eliminate all the obstacles we’re staring at, we know what the right thing is. We just need to do it. ♥

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