Is it my imagination or has life accelerated since the economic downturn in 2008? Those of us lucky enough to still have jobs feel compelled to run harder, jump higher, and work faster. Those who can’t keep up fear they will be left behind—and sometimes they are.
My mother, who is now in her 80s, will readily admit that our lives are more efficient than ever before, but she also wonders if we’ve lost a little of our humanity along the way. When she says such things, I recall kneeling along the banks of a river with a group of Nicaraguan women, all of us there to rub and pound our clothes clean. It was hard work but we knew we’d get it done, so why not enjoy a few lewd jokes or instigate a water fight?
Not long after I returned from Nicaragua, I enrolled in a one day seminar on supervisory techniques. The only thing I remember is the instructor’s assertion that Americans of different generations are inspired by different motivators. I paid close attention to what he said about the Baby Boomers (since, like others of my generation, we all think the world revolves around us). I was told that our group is motivated by values. Do I believe in the ethics and mission of my company or organization? Loyalty, I learned, is the keymotivator for my parents’ generation. That was certainly true for my father who went to college under the GI Bill and gradually climbed up the business ladder by working for the same company for twenty years. And the younger generation right behind mine? They are the Sesame Street generation. Work for them, I was told, should be creative, fun and fast. These days, I admit, we don’t have to worry too much about how to motivate young people. At the beginning of 2012, youth unemployment in the U.S. stood at 23%, with much higher rates in other parts of the world. So, are we having fun yet?
As I said in the beginning, I think life for many has certainly been fast. Or should I say stressful? Bills have a way of piling up fast when one is out of work. Regarding the desire to be creative, I recently watched a video of John Cleese talking about this subject. He cited research revealing that creativity is not a talent or ability, and it is not in any way based on one’s IQ. Instead, it is a way of operating, “an ability to play with ideas and explore them, not for any practical purpose but just to enjoy them.”
Cleese goes on to tell us that one of the essential elements to being creative is to be “open” which, I think, is also essential if one wishes to operate in a humane fashion. But there is a risk. Creative people tend to rock the boat, come up with quirky ideas, and ask a lot of questions. In short, it is probably a lot more efficient (and, in the end, may help us refrain from being too subversive) to install indoor plumbing for washing machines and let people get on with the business of their lives.
Believe it or not, I am not proposing that we go back to doing our laundry along the riverbank. However, if someone can figure out how to shift this world into a lower gear, I wouldn’t mind slowing down enough to allow a little more space for creativity. If we worked at a human pace (instead of trying to keep up with machines), we might also have more time for meaningful interactions. We might lose a little in production, but I think it’s also very likely we would see a great increase in compassion.
A dear friend (actually, my former boss) recently wrote, “All life is moving on a path, putting one foot in front of the other, as if on lily pads. It is tenuous and precious.” If I’m not too busy, I might be able to remember that.
For more on John Cleese’s talk on creativity, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmY4-RMB0YY