Friday, June 26, 2015

An Underlying Sense of Urgency

I feel it all around me.  When I’m at the college, I feel it.  When I’m at the grocery store, I feel it.  When I’m at church, I feel it.  I speak of that underlying sense of urgency that seems to permeate so many parts of our lives, that subsonic, subliminal message of “hurry, hurry; do it now; let’s get it done….”  Perhaps I show my West Indian hand here.  But, if that is the case, then we here in North America have something to learn from the West Indies…and much of Latin America, Africa and Asia.  Okay…we have something to learn from most of the rest of the world!

Why the urgency?  Perhaps it has something to do with our American perception that we must be “first” in the world.  Biggest, best, fastest, strongest…pick the superlative adjective, and we want to apply it to ourselves here in the US.  On a local level, apply these same superlatives to individual companies, schools, etc.  And, if we’re going to be the best, first, biggest, etc., I imagine that would indicate a certain sense of urgency.  Because if we sit back and move slowly, someone else just might get ‘there’ first…and then we won’t be the best, first, biggest, etc. 

Now, what does being the best, first, biggest mean?  Well, for a business, it can mean a lot.  The race to produce the ‘pad’ device was quite a heated competition…and the company that got it out first…and did it best…was going to make the most money.  And, there was “space race” back during the “Cold War”—the race to see who would reach the moon first.  Well, we did.  And, now, we can say we were first.  That, my friends, may be the most important thing about being superlative—being able to “SAY” that one is superlative.

Does it really matter if we have the strongest economy in the world?  Is it not okay to simply have a strong economy?  Does it really matter if one owns the newest model of a car?  Is it not perfectly fine to own a reliable, proven car that is not the newest?  Does it really matter if our school is the most innovative school for Hispanic students?  Is it not okay to be merely ‘innovative’ and successful at educating Hispanic students?  Does it matter if our company is the number one company in pad sales?  Is it not enough to provide a good product for our customers at a good price so that we provide a good living for our employees?  Does it really matter if we’re the best, first, biggest, etc?  Is it not okay to be good, to be in the mix, to be the size we are?

Some are already bowing up their backs ready to call me lazy, ‘the problem with our nation today,’ and perhaps worse.  That’s okay…those who are reacting like that have simply been conditioned by that underlying message that calls, demands!, that we be best, first, biggest, etc.

So, back to that urgency.  I think it’s a bad thing.  That urgency translates into what I call ‘low frequency stress’…that underlying, slowly murderous stress that affects our muscles, our minds, gives us cancers and ulcers…and permeates our society, slowly killing us through its unceasing demand that we do more, faster, now, better, to win…to be the best, to be first, to be the biggest.  That’s bad stuff.  And, I don’t want it.

Rome went that route…and they’re gone.  The Byzantines went that route…and they’re gone.  The Ottoman Empire went that route…and they’re gone.  Spain went that route…and they’re a mere shadow of what they were—and so went Holland, Portugal and England.  Are we so arrogant as to think that the US is somehow immune to cycles of empires?

When I sit back and think of Italy, Spain and other former world powers, I see a people who now are not moved by a current of urgency.  I see countries that are content to do well, to carry on, to be who they are…and not to be best, fastest, biggest.  I see the Italians in film and book enjoying long lunches…extended summer vacations…coffee and pasta and gelato.  I see the Brits even enjoying the twilight of their empire—they’re slowing down and learning not be to so uptight.  And, I must admit, I look forward to the day when we are able to reach that coveted place in life…to the time when we can rest a bit, enjoy life a bit more. 


Meanwhile, there’s that urgency…that low frequency ‘call to arms’ that underlies too much of our lives here.  I’m going to fight it.  I’m going to say “no.”  I’m going to slow myself down, grab on to some limb hanging over the waters of life and let the waters rush past if they want to.  As I hold on to that limb, I’m going to enjoy the feel of the waters, watch the shoreline for any animals that may need to stop and drink.  I’m going to talk to others on the river…even invite them to join me.  But, they’ll probably be in a hurry…rushing on down the river to some unknown something that promises more than it can really offer.  Yes, then I’ll pull myself onto the shore…and there I’ll sit in the sun, enjoying the moment of the day…and dream of gelato.