Why Do We Let Parkinson’s Law Rule Our lives?

By R. Nelson Nash

C. Northcote Parkinson (1909 – 1993) was an interesting British naval officer who left us some valuable insights into human behavior. His sense of humor makes for good reading. His little essay, Parkinson’s Law, written in 1955, tells us “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Understanding his observation makes it easy to extrapolate a large number of corollaries. One of my favorites is “A luxury, once enjoyed, becomes a necessity.”

A thought comes to mind. Early in our marriage my wife and I would sit down from time to time and discuss how we were handling our financial affairs. We would list how we were allocating our scarce income and would always finish the session smiling from ear to ear because, you see, we never wasted any of our income — we spent it all on necessities! No one had ever explained Parkinson’s Law to us! The human mind has the ability to rationalize any behavior!

Understanding the implications of his law is an absolute necessity in our everyday lives. If not, then Parkinson’s Law will eat you alive! You will end up with unbelievable debt and never realize how it came to be. It has been observed that “Americans buy things they don’t need – with money they don’t have – to impress folks they don’t know – who could care less.” Surely I don’t have to cite examples to support this obvious fact in our world today. The current debt load in America is unbelievable.

How did this condition come to be? Failure to recognize this ramification of Parkinson’s Law leads to slavery. Sometimes the recognition is necessary several times per day. A recent example happened in our home. Our second refrigerator, located in the garage, just past the entry way into our kitchen lost its ability to function properly (it died).

Upon discovery of this, our immediate concern was for the food in the freezer and the other compartment. Would we be able to salvage it? Guess what? We came face to face with another “law” – this one formulated by a fellow named Murphy – “ if anything can go wrong, it will!” It was almost four o’clock on Friday! Quitting time for the upcoming weekend!

We had several Styrofoam containers on hand. We just needed dry ice to put into them to keep the frozen items in that condition. I got on the internet to locate a source of it. There were only two such locations. I called the nearest one, which is only eight miles away. “We close at four-thirty” was the answer. The four o’clock traffic on a Friday is mind-boggling. I got there five minutes too late!

On the way back home we were discussing plan “B” – and decided to go to the local grocery and just buy ten pounds of ice for the Styrofoam containers – see if we can find room in the refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen for most of the frozen items – and hope for the best. It worked out! We found space in the freezer compartment in the kitchen refrigerator that contained several items that should have thrown away long ago! Imagine that! (I think this is probably another ramification of Parkinson’s Law – one that should be addressed later.)

Following our plan, at 10:00 am on Saturday, we were shopping for a “plain-Jane” refrigerator (there was no need of fancy “in the door water and ice features”). There were four appliance stores within a short distance of each other. The first store offered one that met our needs quite well. But, we needed to check out the competition located across the street.

We looked at several models that matched the brands we had seen at the first store – and at slightly lower price. Now comes the good part! After about fifteen minutes of shopping at the second store, my wife pulls on my shirtsleeve to get my attention. She looks me straight in the eye and says, “During this morning I’ve been thinking – do we really need a second refrigerator?”

What an amazing thought! We had just been through eighteen hours of anxious activity about replacing a refrigerator/freezer that we really didn’t need! All of this was caused by a decision made many years ago when we had children – and, later there were grandchildren who came with them to visit – sometime for an extended stay. We really did need a second refrigerator in those days. It had become a necessity. But, now that the real need had passed, our mind-set prevailed – it continued to be a necessity until a clear and reasonable thought appeared.

You see, it’s all about how you think – or don’t think! Parkinson’s Law is alive and well. Everyone needs to recognize that monster in order to avoid financial slavery.