on Busyness

True wisdom is ageless understanding.

My daughter Julia, @Chibichiree, wrote this essay for school.  She is seventeen.

If I Had a Nickel for Every Time I was Busy…

Tim Kreider’s, The “Busy” Trap, dwells upon his opinions on busyness.  He believes that busyness is an addiction, is a coping mechanism to help people not have to face what might just be there when they have nothing to do.  Kreider talks about two of his friends, two completely different circumstances.  One of his friends is too busy to notice that an invitation to spend time together is such.  His other friend has left behind a very busy world to one more relaxed and calming, only to find what she thought was her personality was a side effect of the stress of being busy.

I believe busyness drains us of who we are to give us false personalities and lives filled with self-obtained stress.   I agree wholeheartedly we as people, as a human race, tend to fill our life with a void of nothingness disguised as fulfillment.

I believe that to be busy fills life with a certain nothingness, a daily rush to do everything you possibly can, only to be rewarded with the stress that it gives back to you.  I do not think there is any value in stuffing the day with activities.

Kreider says, “Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half hour with classes and extracurricular activities” (381).  This is true.  There is a woman who lives in my neighborhood, I babysit her youngest child, she goes to dance, gymnastics, yoga, a math tutor, she eats dinner, has thirty minutes of reading time, and then it is bed time.  My family never did this, we never could have – we lived out of town.  My ‘extracurricular’ was running around the woods getting poison ivy and chasing after chickens until my mother called me in for dinner.  Now I would like to believe this is just as important as learning a new language, or perfecting your times table because I learned a lot while doing all of these things… how to differentiate between leaves and the importance of being gentle.  Do people not see the fundamental mistake they have made in giving children so much to do?  We have given them no time to find out who they are and no time to explore the world around them.  If a child never has time to just be, and by that I mean have no activities they must go to and no responsibilities, then how are they ever to learn to enjoy themselves, learn to just be?  In filling a child’s life with seven different things every day of the week we are teaching them that they must always have something to do, for if they do not have something, some activity or class to do, they are not doing anything of importance, so they are no longer important…

Human beings tend to feel the need to feel important.  To feel as if they are somehow doing something of great importance.  When the matter of the fact is that in two hundred, three hundred, four hundred years for now no one is going to know your name or that you worked three hours of overtime on Thursday.  There will be no shadow of a thought about ordinary people and their ordinary lives.  When someone is lying on their deathbed I sincerely doubt that they will be thinking, “Oh god I should have worked more.”  They will be thinking, “If only I could enjoy the sun one last time, kiss Mary goodbye, and have held my children a bit longer”(384).  Kreider said something similar to that.

I have always been like water.  I float along with the plan.  I can change without resistance.  If they need twenty minutes, I can sit in the sun and enjoy the breeze.  I feel no need to throw myself into a tizzy because my perfect to the second schedule has been thrown to space.  I have often thought on the subject of last thoughts, I have wondered what mine will be, what regrets I will have, what are the things I will truly miss at the end of it all…  Most likely the things that cannot be replaced, interaction with a certain human being, and their idiosyncrasies.  It seems to me that people have forgotten how to stop, take a moment, how to think about everything that is around them without thinking about what needs to be done.  If one cannot take a single moment to breath, to stop and look at the sky and realize its crisp blue beauty, does it still exist in their world, or has it simply disappeared, maybe it has become the forgotten background to an ever bleak and monotonous existence?   What is the point in being alive if one cannot enjoy the things that are around them every day, the spectacular display that seems to go unnoticed, washed out in a rainstorm of ‘productivity’?

Despite my opinions, busyness can also be an important escape from something a person needs to stop and face.  If I keep busy, that dark shadow cannot catch up to me, it cannot get me.  I know this all too well.  When I was younger I had something terrible happen to me and instead of facing it, instead of talking about it, I took up running.  Quite literally.  I would run and run trying to get away, I would run until I threw up.  Honestly I think that in that time, that is what I needed.  Busyness is okay sometimes – it is an escape, but a necessary one.  Victims of trauma and assault often take up a hobby – piano, reading, binge watching all of a television show just so they do not have to face the dark, so that they do not have to face what has happened to them.  I have been there, I have seen that side of the world, and I think it is an important argument, but eventually you will run out of places to run, shows to watch, books to read, and you will be alone, left to face what happened.

There will always be two sides to a single coin, always people on different sides of the fence.  If we flip over said fence there will be people who believe being busy is a good thing, and they are entitled to that opinion, just as I am entitled to my own.  One reason someone might say keeping your children busy is a great thing to do, is that it keeps them out of trouble.  There are countless youth groups dedicated just to keeping kids away from drugs, which must mean that plenty of people go to them, because how would they stay open if people did not?  I am positive plenty of people enjoy them as well.  Here is the argument in a whole: If a child has countless activities or clubs to go to, they will have no time to act out, they will have no time to experiment with drugs or commit crimes.  I can agree it is a good thing to keep the world’s youth safe from the dangers that hide around the corner.  But I can also argue that it is not a good thing to keep children and teenagers so busy they never know about the hard parts of life, because they will then be left with a blank mind that doesn’t know what to do when someone approaches them with these options they have never had to face.

Another argument for keeping busy with work and overtime and volunteering is that it builds character.  When a person works hard they are a hard worker.  Simple, right?  And since everyone loves a hard worker, employers are more likely to hire a hard worker who is well rounded and takes on just enough extra work and overtime, not too much because that will interfere with their busyness at work.  Everything is a well calculated move, life becomes like a well-oiled machine.  Everyone is a perfectly fitting cog when they are busy, and if they are not busy they are sure the machine will fall to pieces.  But that is not true.  As Kreider says about his friend who left her busy New York life for one the French countryside, “She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain.” (382).  This woman does not let work fill her entire day and that is just fine, she still gets everything she needs done and also has time to spend with friends, she no longer lets the curse of busy cover her in a dark mist. And that well-oiled machine?  Well it looks to me like it did not fall apart.

No matter where people go in life there will always be pros and cons of being busy.  There will always be two sides of the fence, one seemingly greener than the other depending on the light in which you are looking at it.  I believe there is nothing more important than to be free to hold onto every moment of your life.  Every single second the clock ticks down another stroke, every grain of sand in that hourglass of our lifetimes.  We do not know how much time we have, how many grains of sand, I could live to be eighty years old, or just barely make it to my twenties.  So I am determined to spend my time doing what pleases me, take naps in the glow of the warm sun, walk slowly in the cool fall air, do whatever it takes to make me feel fulfilled.

I slept in the other day, something I almost never do.  Something engrained into my mind made me say to my mother, “Being lazy.”  To which she replied, “Relaxing is just as important as getting things done.”  I believe that busyness is an escape from yourself, it is a way of tiptoeing the tightrope over the abyss of self-awareness.  The only way people will ever be able to take the plunge, to let go and fall back into themselves, is to take a moment and realize it is okay to just be.

{P.S. You can find more of Julia here.}

About C.G.Ayling

Musing misuser of words, lover of lyrical literature, author, occasional contrary thoughts. An honorable man’s name, in memoriam.
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