The Cult of Busy

As I mentioned I started a new full time job a little over a month ago, and as you may have noticed, my blog posts have become much less frequent.

Of course, commuting for around 45 minutes each way and working for 8-9 hours Monday-Friday leaves me with much less blogging time than when I was freelancing. And the end of summer brings a lot of events, and I was teaching a yoga class in the park on Sundays, and I have various projects that I’ve been working on…

In a word I guess you could say I’ve been busy.

But then, isn’t everyone? And isn’t it just an excuse? I could work on my still nowhere near finished novel, or write a blog post everyday, or do an hour of yoga everyday if I really wanted to write. After all, I know all about productivity and the magic of mornings.

The fact that I feel like there’s such little time for these things, the fact that I feel  simultaneously like I’m doing so much and but also have so much to do is what Tim Kreider talked about in his much shared New York Times article “The Busy Trap.” It was published in June, but I was too busy to read it until July and too busy to post about it until now….

The basis of the article is that:
1) people like to complain about how busy they are to make themselves seem or feel important/give their lives meaning.

2) The people who complain about being  busy have pretty much done it to themselves–their busyness is “self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in.”

3) Tim Kreider lives some sort of Utopian life that cubical dwellers everywhere only dream of: he works for 4-5 hours a day, rides his bike and doesn’t have a T.V.

Admittedly  that last point grated on me, sure working for 4 hours a day and having tons of leisure time while still somehow making a living sounds great but very few of us have that option available to us. At least he admits this somewhat:  “Perhaps the world would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved as I do. But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle… My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue.”

But the overarching point of the article, that our middle/upper middle class desire to stuff our days full of tasks and then lament that we can’t complete them all  is part of a deep desire to give meaning to our silly little lives.

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day…It’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.” Kreider points out. Well, sure, OK, when you put it like that.

I agree with his notion that when you give your brain space it can do amazing things:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.”

Yes, but, left idle most of the world’s population would not create artistic or literary  masterpieces or make useful inventions or remarkable discoveries. Most of us would just sleep in and watch T.V.

So the truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in between.  I think  both sides of the argument can best be summed up by the late, great Kurt Vonnegut:




3 responses

  1. This is a great post! I can personally relate to the self imposed busyness and have a few contacts that I think fall into the same category. On the other hand I also know people who are extremely busy, but still appear so calm and collected. I guess busyness is all relative from person to person.

  2. Interesting post. I agree that Western society is very much obsessed with ‘busy’, but I don’t agree that, given more free time, most of us would “sleep in and watch TV”. I know many people who are lucky to have free time and who paint, spend a lot of time in nature, do their favourite sport, socialise etc. Having free time PLUS not having the worry (or guilt) of having to make money during this time gives us more freedom and peace. But all depends on the society in which we live, of course.

  3. […] like its due to lack of time–life has been a bit hectic these last couple of months–that’s really a lame excuse at the heart of it. When it comes down, there is no reason to not do […]

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