Have you noticed, when a politician or bureaucrat is asked when he will begin fulfilling various promises, the answer is often: “we understand, we’re committed, we’re working on it.”1
The same answer is given later. After a while, we feel it’s a waste of energy even to ask, so we stop asking. This occurs in many settings and relationships, and 40 years ago was called “The Law of Delay” by C. Northcote Parkinson (of “Parkinson’s Law” fame):
Recent research has tended to show that the Abominable No-man is being replaced by the Prohibitive Procrastinator. Instead of saying ‘No’ the PP says ‘In due course’, these words foreshadowing Negation by Delay (ND). The theory of ND depends upon establishing a rough idea of what amount of delay will equal negation. If we suppose that a drowning man calls for help, evoking the reply ‘In due course’, a judicious pause of five minutes may constitute for all practical purposes, a negative response. Why? Because the delay is greater than the non-swimmer’s expectation of life….
At this point it is necessary to emphasize that the PP seldom says outright ‘This cannot be done in your lifetime!’ He allows this fact to emerge stealthily in the course of discussion.
‘Our best method,’ he will begin with apparent helpfulness, ‘is to form a Committee on Procedure. This will produce an outline proposal, the various parts of which will be referred to sub-committees formed to deal with the legal, financial, cynical, technical, political, hysterical, statistical, ineffectual and habitual aspects of the scheme…. [this goes on for two paragraphs]
This is usually enough to end the matter without a single argument being used against the proposal under discussion….
[Excerpted from The Law of Delay: Interviews and Outerviews, by C. Northcote Parkinson. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971.) As included in The Basket of Tolerance by Adi Da Samraj.]
Mr. Parkinson then suggests that the way around the Law of Delay might involve drafting a well-considered proposal and sending it to not one party, but many parties, invoking a kind of “everybody-all-at-once” situation (to borrow a term from the book Not-Two Is Peace).
Questions for consideration:
- What’s your experience with delays?
- If delay is the deadliest form of denial, then how do you deal with delay in the face of something that needs to happen?
- Are there problems in the world today whose solutions cannot be delayed forever?
- I’m borrowing this phrase from my teacher Adi Da Samraj, who commented on this sort of thing quite often. ↩