Yesterday I shared a picture on Facebook that garnered a number of responses, and it got me thinking about our addiction to busy.
It works something like this: You run into someone and the conversation goes this way:
Hi! I haven’t seen you in a long time! How have you been?”
“Oh, so busy! Life is just so busy right now”.
“Me as well! I don’t know where the time goes!”.
Happy with our self-congratulations we move on to respective areas of the supermarket.
How often has this happened to you in our western world of quick interactions and fly by conversations?
I posted last year on weather as the great western social facilitator and if weather is one social facilitator in the west, “I’ve been so busy” is another. It has become standard response to the question “How are you?”.
Imagine for a minute that instead of the socially mandated busy one upmanship you respond: “We’ve been great! Not too busy, just the right pace so that we are occupied but not overwhelmed.”
You would have broken a cultural code, for in our society we have created a busy badge of honor worn with pride. We are proud that we are busy. So busy that eating meals together for most families is rare except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. So busy that our counters are cluttered with mail that has not been sorted for 3 months and mold covering what used to be food in plastic containers in our refrigerators could be made into penicillin. The amazing thing is the self-satisfied pleasure with which we let people know this. Like it’s some kind of award or gives us higher status.
Busy has become like a security blanket. We wrap it tightly around us so that we can justify our existence.
Busy is synonymous with important. If you’re not busy it must mean you aren’t useful. Or important. Or contributing anything worthwhile. Or many other things. Not being busy is a bad thing.
As if adults wearing this blanket of busy with pride is not enough, we’ve passed this cultural value on to our children, the future generation. As they hear us say with fake smiles and little laughs how “busy” we are, they hear the other person respond with affirmation – a “hear, hear” sort of compliment.
Does this busy blanket do anything good for us culturally? Is it a value we want to continue? Is it immigrants working late into the night after finishing their day jobs who claim they are “so busy”. I don’t think so. Those words don’t do them justice.
Many have put the blanket on themselves, a burden that can be blamed on nothing and no one.
Tim Kreider writing an Opinionator piece last year in the NY Times calls this The ‘Busy’ Trap. “It is,” he says “pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.” His essay is a much more in depth look at this phenomenon and I encourage you to take a look.
So here’s the challenge – Next time someone asks you how you are – don’t do it! Don’t fall for the trap! Use another adjective. Be creative. And once you do – come back to the blog and let us know what you said. How did you respond instead of saying “I’m so busy”? We need all the help we can get to break this cycle!
What suggestions do you have that can replace the “I’m so busy” mantra? Would love to hear through the comments!