We could all probably offer any number of proverbs encouraging people to be industrious and to avoid idleness, to be practical and to work hard. We've heard since we were children that we shouldn't just sit around, but that we should DO something. We brag about how busy we are and qualify any enjoyable activity with "just" -- just reading, just thinking. There are even public service announcements encouraging us to sit down and have dinner with those we love. We're too busy to write, too busy to talk, to get together, to take a break, to live our lives. How did we come to such a state and why? I'm not sure I know even after observing the phenomenon for many years. It's as though we've hung every notion of our self-worth on how busy we are.
I'm not a historian so I can't pinpoint when this snowball got its start careening downhill. But it seems that each technological advance or labor saving device designed to make our work easier has, in some sense, taken away more of our time. There appears to be something in us that will not or can not say enough is enough. And I have been just as guilty as anyone.
When I was a stay at home mom, it wasn't enough for me to be chief cook and bottle washer. I sewed and baked, wove and knitted, did the driving, took care of the children and became the queen of all volunteers. I felt guilty for going away two or three weekends a year as if I didn't deserve the time off. And I wonder if that might be a part of society's endless pursuit of productivity, guilt.
But I also suspect that this false virtue of busy-ness is a type of drug that muffles the more frightening aspects of our lives. By being too busy we can avoid introspection and any harsh realties that might disrupt our lives. We can sidestep risks that might make things messy. But we also avoid reaching for what might bring us joy and fulfillment. My busy-ness enabled me to pretend that I felt valued, appreciated and loved. It kept me from recognizing unacceptable situations and chronic unhappiness. It made it easy to waste a part of my life.
We've all heard the story about the man on his deathbed who laments having worked so much while living and loving so little. But, having heard it, have we truly considered it? Are we so certain that we will not be that man? What would you do if you weren't so eternally busy? And why aren't you doing it?
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