I grew up on a farm where, when my family wasn’t walking beans, gardening, mowing our large lawn or tending chickens and livestock, I filled my childhood days with all kinds of leisure. I read five novels a week. I wrote letters to middle school and high school friends (yes, this was during the Stone Age before computers, e-mail, Internet, cell phones and video games invaded our world).
Long hours of lazy play with the cats and dog, meandering bike rides, creek-wading and the occasional afternoon at the local swimming pool all were items on my to-do list. I watched television, but not very often, as those also were the days of only three – three! – network channels and Public Television.
Consider life today. As New York Times columnist Tim Kreider bemoans in a recent post on the newspaper’s Opinionator blog, we’ve become a society where the “default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing [is] ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.'” As opposed to people working three minimum-wage jobs who likely say they’re dead-tired rather than busy, Kreider notes those “crazy busy” people are lamenting a purely self-imposed condition. Or, in the case of today’s over-scheduled children, a parentally imposed busyness.
“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,” writes Kreider, who describes himself as “the laziest ambitious person I know.”
Such a sense of “indispensability,” the columnist counters, is nothing other than “a form of institutional self-delusion…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.”
When I think of the students, faculty and alumni of DMU, I have to disagree with Kreider in that these busy people are doing important things, caring for patients, leading organizations, and teaching and learning how to care for patients and lead organizations. But the column provides food for thought on all the things we do daily that are truly valuable versus just plain busyness.
“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,” Kreider writes. “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.”
Abandoning busyness is difficult for Americans, who as a society attach it to our self-worth, self-importance and even as a way to one-up other busy people. But we know in our hearts that Kreider speaks the truth when he concludes: “I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.”
How much “busyness” clutters your life? Have you done anything lately – or not – to enjoy a freer, more playful and less crazy-busy existence?