Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hurry hurry

It's one of the things I absolutely love about Albania. People are not in a hurry (unless they're male & driving a big flashy car). People will pass the time of day, greet you, (even if they are in a car in front of you & the person they see is a pedestrian) but in general they have time for you. Some people bemoan the fact that as Tirana (not Albania) develops, this is changing detrimentally. It's true of the Balkans in general, and, I suspect of many developing countries where time does not determine everything, & where people are not suffering from Hurry-sickness. People & relationships are what count.

There is, in fact, a new-ish movement called The Slow Movement. Books have been written e.g 'In Praise of Slow'

People are recognising the negative effects of stress, of hurrying & of never having enough time, as well as the dehumanising, joy robbing effects of being in a permanent hurry.

I read a book recently which was about various 'disciplines'. In it the author says hurry is the enemy of love. They are incompatible. You cannot show love & concern for people if you are in a hurry. He also talks of 'Sunset Fatigue' the fatigue at the end of the day when we are too drained, tired or preoccupied to give love to those we care for most. How very true.

He gives a funny example of how one evening he was bathing his young daughter who, when she got very excited, would run round in circles singing 'Dee Dah Day, Dee Dah Day' His response was to say, “Hurry up Mallory & get dried & dressed”.

She stopped, looked at him & said “Why?”

She was living in the moment (as children do, & enjoying that moment greatly it seemed!)

And he didn't have an answer for her. He didn't have anything specific to do, appointments, calls, not even a TV programme to watch! He just wanted to get through the bed time routine, get her to bed & on to the next thing. And it made him think. He said we spend so much of our time preparing for the next thing or racing through something to get onto the next thing. But why? (Note here it was the father doing this, not the mother who might have had just cause to want to hurry if she had been looking after miniature people all day.........)

And I am sure you have all had that most discomfiting experience at a gathering when you are talking to someone & you see their eyes look past you to somewhere else or someone else, or look around the room, before flitting back to you as you struggle on with what you were (so interestingly) saying. I dry up when that happens to me. I am ashamed to say my worst experience of this was a pastor of a church I was introduced to. He clearly was far too busy & preoccupied to be talking to me....

The author also suggests that hurry makes us multi-task (which research now suggests is less effective or productive than focussing on one thing at a time as our brains prefer) & that 'hurry' also contributes to superficiality. In our internet, information age we have perhaps traded breadth for depth. Depth isn't achieved quickly. This is something I struggle with as a teacher, for example, with students who are used to abbreviated writing forms (Twitter, Facebook, Texting), constantly changing images, a plethora of social media, surfing rapidly from one topic to another on the internet. Trying to read a novel or keep such students' attention for an hour is quite a challenge.

Two things which the writer recommends to 'cure' hurry-sickness are: 'slowing' & 'solitude'. He suggests deliberately choosing situations where you have to wait or slow down – not jumping the queues in a supermarket, driving in the slow lane, not honking your horn (that's a tricky one for me here in Albania, where my hand rests permanently on the horn), waiting to let people out from a side road. Try & focus on one thing rather than multi tasking, or bite your tongue rather than finishing your children's sentences for them, stop making To Do lists. The list is endless, so to speak.

The other – solitude, is the place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society which try to mould us. The truth is, as Kierkegaard once said, “The press of busyness is like a charm”. It makes us feel important, keeps the adrenaline pumping. It means we don't have to look too closely at the heart or at life. It keeps us from feeling our loneliness. It's good sometimes to stop & question why we do certain things. Is it because it makes us feel needed or important? As an experiment go somewhere with no phone/Blackberry/ipod/book/notepad & just sit & do nothing. It's incredibly difficult & agitating when you are unused to slowing. It's like being on the treadmill at the gym when you look down thinking, “I must have been going at least 6 minutes already, only to find you've done 2.” Again it's something I saw a lot both in Sri Lanka and here. People just watch the world go by. I am constantly amazed at how people can just sit & do nothing, not even read. I am not necessarily advocating that but hopefully there is a middle ground.

It is for these lessons that I am, strangely, most grateful to my time abroad for. The very things that I have found most challenging, I have learnt most from. I have had enforced slowness & solitude. I have experienced loneliness & I have learnt the value of gratitude, enjoying simple pleasures (e.g. electricity!), of contentment, of having time for people & valuing every relationship, even if it is the day to day interaction with a neighbour or shop assistant. It is dignifying everyone's humanity & worth I believe. It says 'I may be busy but I am not in too much of a hurry to greet you & ask how you are doing'.

Our children have had fewer opportunities and less to do in terms of school & activities perhaps, but in the school of Life, they have travelled all round the Balkans & Asia, lived in two very different cultures, interacted with multiple different nationalities on a daily basis, and are incredibly close for boy/girl siblings 4 years apart. As a family we rely heavily on each other, we can make our own entertainment & we truly appreciate community & inter-dependence.

I hope I can hold onto these lessons when I dive back into the British rat-race & the maelstrom of middle England.


nappy valley girl said...

I am sure it will stand you in good stead, too.
Here in New York everyone is always in a rush, and children are usually very over-scheduled. It's not a relaxing lifestyle, and I'm not sure it's good for people either.

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

Wow I can certainly use some of this 'no hurry' approach. The good thing is that I know this about myself and am sometimes able to just stop and then proceed more slowly. I've been trying to practice living in the moment a lot more which does help.

tiranamama said...

You are so so wise and I definitely got tears in my eyes on this post. Hurry and hiding loneliness or laziness by keeping busy - even if it's by doing something that seems important like reading the news or checking facebook - is something I definitely struggle with. My first introduction to the balkans - beyond my husband - were my Bosnian housemates in Vermont who could sit for unplanned for amounts of time just drinking turkish coffee and smoking and talking together. In the midst of my craziness of grad school and full time job and wedding planning, I was so torn about joining in what seemed like doing nothing and wasting time. In fact, they were using time in a very worthy way - enjoying one-another and the present. Please keep writing when you head back to England.