The Noble Duke of York: a Tale of Unsustainable Emotional Expenditure

Do you remember the nursery rhyme “The Noble Duke of York?” Just to refresh your memory, these are the words:

The Noble Duke of York,

He had ten thousand men.

He marched them up to the top of the hill,

And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,

And when they were down, they were down.

But when they were only halfway up,

They were neither up nor down.

If you’re really scrambling for that tune, here’s a wildly annoying video that may refresh your memory:

Like most nursery rhymes, “The Noble Duke of York” is kind of weird. These are children’s rhymes, but they aren’t going to mean anything to kids. In fact, this one doesn’t mean much to adults, either. Wikipedia says that the song lyrics “have become proverbial for futile action,” which makes sense. They’re just marching up and down, with the only outcome being a change of position, not any real advantage.

But this song has started to mean a lot to me lately. Not in an “I want to walk down the aisle to this song at my wedding” kind of way, but in a “holy cow do I understand this song” kind of way.

You see, I am the Noble Duke of York.

Not really, though that would be freaking awesome. I could probably pay off my student loans a lot faster. But proverbially, I am Yorkie, as we will call him.

You see, Yorkie isn’t very good at managing his men. He isn’t fighting anything significant, but he runs his men up and down the hill all the time anyway. Yes, the men will get used to running up and down the hill, but ultimately, the altitude changes are going to start getting to them. And if something actually worth fighting does come along, Yorkie’s men will be too tired to deal with it because they’ve been marching up and down for every little thing.


If Yorkie wants his men to experience the sensation of being up and down, there’s probably a better way to do it. I like the notion of them being halfway up most of the time, because then if they need to run to the top of the hill they don’t get too lightheaded, and if they have to run to the bottom it’s not too big a drop. But maybe it would be better for just a couple of guys at a time to run up and down until something worth relocating everyone for actually comes along.

Now imagine that Yorkie’s men are emotional energy.

Sometimes minor things happen (you fight with a friend, your car breaks down, your boss is mean to you, the guy you’ve been dating drops off the radar, etc.) that really do warrant a quick jog to the top or bottom of the hill.

And I know the word “minor” may be throwing you off there, because dropping $2k on a new transmission or being rejected by someone doesn’t seem minor. But let’s think about the “major” bad things that could happen: serious illness. Death in the family. A miscarriage. Filing for bankruptcy. Or the good things: a new promotion. Getting married. The birth of a child. Buying a house. When you look at those things, a new car repair doesn’t seem so major anymore.


But when something like that happens, we Yorkies (or those who feel things at extremes) run all of our emotional energy to the bottom of the hill. Then we meet a cute guy and run all the way to the top, and then we find out he has a girlfriend (probably through wildly invasive Facebook stalking fueled by our top-of-hill high and some white zinfandel) and sprint right back to the bottom.

It’s an ultra-marathon of up and down, up and down, and we can’t keep it up.

Eventually, our legs and hearts will give out, and we won’t be able to move anymore. We’ll be stuck in the middle of the hill, neither up nor down and with no ability to get to those places anymore, even when something major demands it.

Or, worse yet, we’ll fall down and then roll to the bottom of the hill, where we’ll stay for good because we lack the strength to pick ourselves up and move our butts back up the hill come hell or high water. And when the high water does come, we’ll drown in our own emotion and self-imposed weakness.

Guys, that’s no way to live.

For most of my life, I’ve been running up and down this hill. Which is funny, because physically it’s obvious that I am not a runner. And lately I’ve been feeling rather tired. I can’t run up and down this hill anymore with all of my energy.

But to say that I need to start metering the energy I expend on positive things sounds kind of harsh, so here’s my resolution: I’m going to make a camp about two thirds of the way up the hill. (Whatcha gonna do about that, Yorkie?!) When something good happens, I’m going to send as many men as I feel appropriate as high up the hill as I see fit. And when something bad happens, I’ll do the same, but in the other direction.

But I’m going to be very intentional about how many men I send out, how far they’re allowed to go, and how quickly I’ll let them move.

Because the last thing I want to do is tire my men out so much that they’re incapable of getting back up.

So who’s with me?

Where are all of my fellow Yorkies? Because Yorkies, I think it’s time we stop running up and down and just sit a while. I’ve got a nice vantage point here at Camp Two-Thirds-Up. Won’t you join me?


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