One of my favorite writers was John D. MacDonald, who wrote a series of novels in the 1960s whose chief protagonist was Travis McGee, a six-foot-four blue-eyed beach bum who lived on a boat called The Busted Flush anchored in Fort Lauderdale. McGee was a latter-day Robin Hood, a combination detective and soldier-of-fortune who would support himself by taking cases often involving the recovery of stolen property. Unlike many such novels, there wasn’t a large cast of supporting characters. The only one that I remember was Meyer, a retired economist also living on a boat anchored in Fort Lauderdale, but his was called the John Maynard Keynes.
Meyer – the reader is never sure whether this is his first or last name – was the author of one of the most profound decision principles I have ever encountered. This principle was enunciated in what McGee referred to as Meyer’s Law – whenever you are confronted with an emotionally difficult decision, the alternative that is the most difficult to do is the alternative that is the right thing to do.
I recently encountered a classic application of Meyer’s Law. A friend’s mother was dying, probably with only a week or so to live. The relation between the mother and the son was not great, and so the son asked me whether I felt he should visit her before she died. You may think this is an absolute slam-dunk, but many people will find reasons not to make the effort until death makes the decision for them. At any rate, it is a slam-dunk from the standpoint of Meyer’s Law – the most difficult thing to do is for my friend to go visit his dying mother, and so it is the right thing to do.