Today I wanted to write about the amount of activity we undertake in response to events.
These thoughts were prompted by watching several things: the habits of businesspeople; the behaviour of people when they are anxious; and the tendency of our societies to reward frantic activity.
Business, the word business, means doing things. The business world is self-fulfilling, in that it considers doing things an end in itself. A typical business model sees a person as a producer, and considers a business a kind of machine that produces return for investors. You don’t ask too closely why the machine is there; you just maintain the machine.
Some more enlightened business people have seen beyond this, and wish to consider business the art of doing things to good ends. This is a nice touch, but it takes quite some doing in the modern world, where business survival is technically quite difficult.
I notice that, when businesses are under threat, a chain of actions can ensue that aren’t exactly in keeping with good mental health. Firstly, there is a sudden focus on cutting costs, on using less resource. If a business cannot afford to maintain itself, then either the number of producers/employees has to reduce, or the productivity of each employee has to increase.
Secondly, a harshness comes in, in terms of what is expected of everyone. If there is little to spare, then generosity can be sacrificed on the altar of need. No one has the time to attend to things closely – just quickly. No one has the time to attend to quality – everyone does just enough.
This can be counterproductive. Even on a business’s own terms, the foundation of delivering return is adding value for customers. Value is, by definition, wise generosity: finding a way to deliver more than would normally be expected. If we become a society obsessed with delivering only according to expectations, then quality disappears, generosity disappears, and we will compete each other into the ground.
One of the traditional meanings of anxiety, is the urge to act. ‘Fred is anxious to…’ means that Fred really, really wants to get something done.
In a sense, when we are anxious, we become quite stingy with ourselves. We act like businesses in trouble – we start doing the personal equivalent of cutting costs: in other words, we spend so much time acting, that we suffer from the lack of reinvestment in ourselves, or self-care. And, because there is little time to spare, we are harsh to ourselves, expecting ourselves to perform more with less support. Our generosity to ourselves is sacrificed on the altar of our own perceived needs.
Again, just like in business, if we become obsessed with delivering only according to expectations, then the quality of what we do disappears, and we will compete ourselves anxiously into the ground
Our society doesn’t help. It rewards frantic behaviour. People are celebrated because they juggle work, play and holiday as though they were bombs which would explode if laid down.
The strange thing is – look what happens to those left behind. While the active ones are getting ever busier, making sure their break-even businesses act according to expectations… and while the anxious ones are getting even more anxious, making sure their closely-balanced lives deliver according to society’s expectations… some are left behind, unable or unwilling to participate in this frantic merry-go-round.
To those not participating, the frantic activity looks, to tell the truth, a little bit mad. It seems to deliver nothing except an excess of waste, an excess of pollution, and a deficit of generosity.
Just for today, question the amount of doing that you do. Resist the urge to act, and look around you. Are there excluded people waiting to be helped?
The business world is becoming obsessed with delivering according to expectations and cutting costs, and therefore is becoming less generous.
When we are anxious, we do the same thing – we overload ourselves with expectations, cut our access to resources, become harsh, and lose quality of life.
Society supports both of these tendencies. While the rewarded ones are busy in their frantic lives, they continue to produce waste, pollution and miserliness.
It is worth stopping sometimes, doing less, and looking around us, to see if we can help those left behind by our mad focus on over-activity.