Friday, July 20, 2012

In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honoré

We live in a culture that travels at breakneck speed.  Books about the benefits of slowing down are a dime a dozen.  Ironically, we don’t have time to read them.  But there are two reasons why I’m particularly attracted to them.  First, as a believer, I am intrigued by the “down times” woven into the fabric of creation: nighttime, wintertime, Sabbath days.  God  made rest an integral part of His plan, and we ignore it to our detriment.  Second, we had several years of enforced rest from our busy missionary lives as a result of burnout. 

Canadian journalist Carl Honoré was in an airport and his attention was arrested by a book called The One-Minute Bedtime Story.  It sounds almost too good to be true.  Rattle off six or seven “stories,” and still finish inside ten minutes – what could be better?  Then, as I begin to wonder how quickly Amazon can ship me the full set, redemption comes in the shape of a counter-question:  Have I gone completely insane?  As the departure lineup snakes towards the final ticket check, I put away the newspaper and begin to think.  My whole life has turned into an exercise in hurry, in packing more and more into every hour.  I am Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there.  And I am not alone.  Everyone around me – colleagues, friends, family – is caught in the same vortex. (p. 3)

In In Praise of Slowness, Honore goes on to describe the Slow movement and how it is making inroads in busy cities around the world.  Despite what some critics say, the Slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace.  Nor is it a Luddite attempt to drag the whole planet back to some pre-industrial utopia.  On the contrary, the movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world.  That is why the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single world:  balance.  Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for.  Seek to live … at the right speed. (15)  The central tenet of the Slow philosophy is taking the time to do things properly, and thereby enjoy them more.  

Inevitably, a life of hurry can become superficial.  When we rush, we skim the surface, and fail to make real connections with the world or other people… All the things that bind us together and make life worth living – community, family, friendship – thrive on the one thing we never have enough of: time. (p. 9)

The chapter that I found most helpful was on fast vs. slow thinking.   In the high speed work place, where data and deadlines come thick and fast, we are all under pressure to think quickly.  Reaction rather than reflection is the order of the day.  Fast Thinking is rational, analytical, linear, logical.  It is what we do under pressure, when the clock is ticking; it is the way computers think and the way the modern workplace operates; it delivers clear solutions to well-defined problems to well-defined problems.  Slow Thinking is intuitive, woolly and creative.  It is what we do when the pressure is off, and we have the time to let ideas simmer at their own pace on the back burner.  It yields rich and subtle insights. (p. 120)

I skimmed some chapters (I’ve already read enough books on raising unhurried children) and skipped others (the ones on sex and religion, both with an emphasis on yoga).  Ironically, our car died the day after I finished this book.  Fortunately we live in a small town and can walk or bike everywhere and could borrow my mom’s car for a couple of doctor’s appointments.  But for a few days we were given the gift of slowness.  Unable to rush around, I took long walks, wrote letters, took naps, read books and had long conversations with my kids.    


Sherry said...

I find it somewhat ironic that you skimmed and skipped through a book about slowing down. However, I would probably do the same given your descriptions of those chapters, and it would probably still be a good encouragement to me to read this book about slowness. I do often feel rushed to get it all in and get it all done.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I think I'd benefit from this book!