Friday, January 31, 2014

Hurry! Hurry!


     I remember a college professor telling our class about a well-meaning American agency that was trying to help 
improve poor crop production in some North African country.  The agency reps went into the countryside and observed how the locals were farming the land.  They were astonished to see that, in the 20th century, these folks were barely scratching the surface of the ground with a sharpened stick.  Yes, eventually, the crops grew, but with an incredibly low yield.  Their solution?  Use some American aid money and bring in tractors and cultivators to do some real plowing and planting.  And so they did.  And when the scirocco winds came up, all of the plowed-up topsoil blew away, leaving the landscape barren.  In their haste to solve a problem, they created a much larger one.
       A number of years ago, James Gleick, author of such bestsellers as Genius and Chaos, turned his attention to our society's ever-increasing fascination with speed.  The book, Faster:  A Acceleration of Just About Everything*, certainly hit home with me.  I doubt I am alone in getting increasingly frustrated when it takes the computer more than a few seconds to provide a result.  Indeed, in doing a word search on "haste" for this reflection, Google politely informed me that it only took 0.25 seconds to return 9.6 million results!  Boy, am I glad it didn't take 1 second!  Google must know I'm under a deadline??!!  And I know I'm not alone in pressing the elevator button multiple times wishing it would move FASTER!
       And, of course, speed seems to translate into money.  And I don't just mean the speed of a running-back in football, or a slalom-skier at the Olympics.  On the one hand we want quick service at a restaurant; we patronize "fast food" chains like crazy (word chosen intentionally!).  On the other hand, how frustrated we become when we can tell that the wait-staff at a nice restaurant is trying to "hurry" us along!  Well, they only want to turn over the table more quickly -- meaning more customers, meaning more revenue.  So we seem to have a love-hate relationship with how we spend time.  As one proverb put it, "
There is nothing more precious than time and nothing more prodigally wasted."**        Some sports provide yet another set of illustrations about time and its use.  Many games -- let's say football, for example -- are played within a specific time frame.  And, generally, the aim is to score as many points as possible during that time frame, while limiting the opponent to as few.  This all calls for judicious use of time.  On the one hand, there is the "hurry-up" offense.  On the other, there is the "run-out-the-clock" offense.  Problems arise, of course, when not everyone is paying close attention:  the notorious "False Start" penalty that can derail momentum even during one of those "hurry up" phases.  Clearly haste CAN make waste!
        Our cultural infatuation with speed (how many movies, for example, have been made with a reference to speed?) can often dull us to the value of deliberation.  We hurry from place to place, task to task, only to leave us so tired that we cannot enjoy many of the things that would enrich our lives.  Gleick points out that eating, sex, and time with families all fall victim to our "need for speed".  
         "Hurry! Hurry!"?  Well, maybe not always.  As those of us in Denver see the signs and shirts proclaiming that cry, perhaps we can make a mental note to go to our calendars and set aside some time to "Slow down! Slow down!"  And, as some time spent practicing "slowing" gives way to spring, we might even get to the point where we can "STOP and smell the roses".
         Oh, by the way, 
GO BRONCOS!  Make haste!  (slowly!)

Chaplain Gary

* Vintage Press, 2000.
** Strauss, Emanuel (1994). Dictionary of European proverbs
 (Volume 2 ed.). Routledge. pp. 2200.

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