Friday, February 22, 2008

On Being Busy

Busy? It’s just a great escape

By Anna Thomas

Lifted from My Paper, 22 Feb 2008 edition

 

I began writing this essay on the assumption that “business” was the noun form of busy.

 

It was triggered by a former classmate who alleged that I was accumulating several

new friends and not sparing time to maintain old friendships.

 

To him, I almost said the dreaded words – “I’m busy” – before I remembered my promise

never to say them. I have decided that those are the rudest words in the English language.

 

Claiming that I am bus implies that I am capable of utilising time, but that time

is reserved for issues mote important than the person I am speaking with.

 

It is equivalent to saying that the other person is not my priority.

 

Now, this works very well in a taut business relationship where I am itching

to put the other person down, step on her and thus climb a few inches higher.

 

That, of course, is the state of global business as we have shaped it.

 

“The world is moving so fast these days that the one who says it can’t be done

is generally interrupted by someone doing it,” said Harry Emerson Fosdick, an American clergyman.

 

Every professional, entrepreneur and labourer knows that too.

 

Thus, they hurtle from deadline to deadline, barely making it home in time for dinner

if someone has cooked it.

 

The cataclysm occurs when those words reach home.

 

I found myself saying them to my daughter one morning while I was preparing

the family breakfast and packing everyone’s lunch.

 

She was trying to tell me how she and her friends had started laughing the previous day

over a triviality but they couldn’t stop laughing all afternoon.

 

She had not found time to talk to me the previous evening as I chased her through her bath,

tea and homework. We also had guests.

 

She was still laughing at it the next morning but not having prepared for the day,

I was frazzled and told her: “I’m busy. Can’t you just eat your breakfast and get ready?”

 

The laughter died out and her lips tightened. That evening, I asked her how her day had been.

She shrugged her shoulders and sighed, ‘It was okay.”

 

That shrug said I had blown my chance.

 

The ancient Latin poet Ovid said, “You who seek an end of love, love will yield to business:

be busy and you will be safe.”

 

In other words, if you are too lazy for the demands of love, of giving to another person,

you can avoid them by being busy. Love will give up on you and you are saved plenty of exertion.

Busyness as the great escape?

 

Bertrand Russell suggested more liberal arts education and leisure for a contented life.

 

He also suggested a four-hour week, but that was 1932. Saying it now is blasphemy.

 

Seventy-six years later, people are concerned about the lack of balance in their lives,

but seem powerless to do much about it.

 

To those who protest that they are only busy doing useful stuff, I quote Tagore: He who is too busy

doing good finds no time to be good.

 

That reminds me. I don’t have time to write more as I’m busy. I apologise for my rudeness.

 

The writer is a mother of two. She is also a freelance editor who sneaks out to see Hindi movies

when her two children are not home. Her favourite essay is Russell’s In Praise of Idleness,

or at least its title.

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