Friday, July 26, 2013

In Search of Balance by Richard Swenson

In the past, there was a closure on the end of every day. . . .  It was called
night. There also existed a closure on the end of every week - it was called
Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, or weekend. Technology, with our permission,
has blasted that landscape clean. Today there are no natural closures,
just as there is no natural solitude. How do we find our way back? (p. 167)

Every five years or so I pick up a book on maintaining priorities just to help me stay on track. Swenson's book Margin was a huge help to me a few years ago, so when I saw this title free for Kindle, I grabbed it. Whereas Margin was a book on the overall benefits of establishing space in our lives, In Search of Balance is a book that tries to explain how our present culture makes that practically impossible. Swenson does not say there is no hope. But he spends a lot of time explaining how “turbocharged” progress inevitably leads to no space in our lives for the things that really matter.

When progress functions as a servant to the legitimate needs of humanity, it has no equal. Serving righteous purposes, it has delivered billions of people from conditions of deprivation and ignorance and brought opportunity, education, healing, and prosperity around the globe at levels unimagined in history.(44)  But progress lives in a fallen world, a world where nothing is pure, a world where the wheat and the weeds grow in the same field. As a result, progress is not only our friend but also our enemy. We have much wheat, but we also have many weeds. Progress always results in more of both.(43) The ultramodern version of progress has advanced beyond just more. Now it gives us more and more of everything faster and faster at exponential rates. (36)

Overload is the new normal.  We have too many choices and decisions, too many activities and commitments, too much change creating too much stress. We have too much speed and hurry.  We have too much technology, complexity, traffic, information, possessions, debt, expectations, advertisements, and media. And we have too little margin.(91) Yes, balance has become more difficult to achieve - without a doubt. But, if anything, balance is more important today than ever precisely because it’s been wrenched away from so many of us with such dramatic force. (19)

Modernity is very good at a great many things, but not a single one connects to depth.  Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Yet we have no longitudinal attention span today. Instead, we have “continuous partial attention.” Technology has enhanced our productivity and simultaneously destroyed our depth. (204)

Depth is born out of such disciplines as stillness, patience, solitude, waiting, intimacy, suffering, quiet, contemplation, submission, discipline, prayer, and yes, margin and balance.  Modernity, on the other hand, is suffused with such “non-disciplines” as speed, interruptions, noise, multitasking, clutter, alarms, advertisements, distractions, Twitter, texting, television, viruses, entertainment, cell phones, activity, obesity, information overload and internet. (205)

The only question is whether [overload] will be stopped by wisdom or by crisis. (102) Swenson advises his readers to pursue the difficult disciplines of simplicity and contentment.  Only when we consciously get off the default treadmill of modern times and devote ourselves to things of eternal importance, will we find personal peace and freedom.


sinistrainksteyne said...

I just started following your blog - it seems we have some similar tastes in reading! I'll have to work my way through your sidebars...

Susanne said...

This sounds very interesting. Adding it to my lists.