Uncommon Common Sense
By Bill Frayer
In Defense of Slow
It’s no secret that we are addicted to speed. Life proceeds at a fast pace today. Perhaps it comes from the old saw: Time is money. Since the early part of the twentieth century when Frederick Taylor came up with the term “scientific management,” which led to Henry Ford’s assembly line, we have been trying to make work more efficient, faster, and productive. I am guilty of this focus on speed too. I eat fast, read fast, and find myself sometimes pushing to complete some chore so I can “get on to” the next activity.
Of course, all this focus on speed and efficiency has a price. Modern humans suffer from time-related stress. They can develop physical disease from anxiety about time and work. Car accidents frequently occur because people are speeding or trying to do things to save time while they are driving (texting, eating, chatting on cell phones). As a result of this emphasis on doing everything quickly, young people, especially, have little tolerance for non-immediate gratification and become easily bored.
One of the great benefits I experienced from moving to Mexico was that I learned to be more patient. No matter how quickly I thought something should happen, I had to learn to be satisfied with a slower, perhaps less efficient pace.
In many ways, slower is better. A few months ago I wrote about the value of reading literature. Reading good fiction or poetry necessarily requires us to read slowly. Eating slowly, preferably with family and good friends, leads to better digestion. Walking or driving slowly lets us see many interesting things around us. Moving slowly, deliberately, helps us avoid accidents and reduces stress.
Focusing on living at a slower pace requires that we think differently about time itself. We often think of time as a limited resource which we do not want to waste. By consciously doing things at a slower pace, it may seem as though we are wasting time. If lunch takes three hours, we might run out of time to do errands in the afternoon. If we read more slowly, we will not be able to read as many books. If we spend a lot of time preparing a meal, we will, of course, have less time to devote to other activities.
The question is, of course, what do we need this extra time for? What do we actually do with our extra time? The late sociologist, Neil Postman, criticized trans-Atlantic supersonic jet service. Getting to Europe in three instead of five hours saved two hours. He supposed that most people would spend the extra time watching television, such an excellent use of time!
So, going slow is a qualitative decision. It presupposes that it is better to do less and do it with more pleasure than to hurry. The Buddhists have promoted living mindfully and deliberately. One cannot live mindfully, noticing and fully engaged every moment, and do it quickly. Jon Kabat-Zinn explains the goal of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may miss what is most valuable in our lives.”
I can’t think of a better reason to live slowly and mindfully.