Turning Old Cliches into New Maxims:
By Richard Eyre
Note: This column appears every two weeks .with an old clich replaced by a new maxim each time. Click here to read the full introductory column. And if you’d like to travel with Richard and Linda Eyre, visit MeridianTrips.com
I was trying to think who it was that always used to say this clich to me – and I realized that it was everyone. Teachers tell us to hurry up. Parents tell us to hurry up. Employers tell us to hurry up. And perhaps most of all, we tell ourselves to hurry up.
Hurry is an interesting word. There is a certain stressfulness even in the sound of it. Maybe it sounds a little like “harried” or “hassled.” It implies a certain lack of control or composure, a bit of desperation, and at least a little fatigue.
So why are we always telling each other, and telling ourselves, to “hurry up”? “Well,” we tell ourselves, there’s a lot to do, and ‘if you stop you rust’ or ‘grass grows under your feet.'”
Ponder the interesting fact that people seldom hurry when they really know what they’re doing. Someone who is confident, who has thought everything through and knows quite clearly what he or she wants to do and how to do it – such a person usually seems efficient, sure, unhurried. And, amazingly, these people seem to get more done than people in a hurry.
I came home late one evening – too late. There had been an incredible amount to do at the office, and I had been trying to hurry though it all and get home in time to have dinner with Linda and the children. The more I rushed, the faster time seemed to pass and more it seemed I had to do.
When I finally got home, dinner was long over and the children were asleep in bed. I slipped into their room and sat down in the rocking chair, watching their sweet faces in peaceful sleep, chastising myself for prioritizing things at the office above getting home in time to play with them.
As I sat there in silence, I was startled by an intermittent clicking sound behind me. My eyes followed the sound, adjusted to the dim light, and I watched the little fuzzy gerbil in his cage, running full speed by staying in the same place in the whirling cylinder of his treadmill. That’s me, I thought, running full tilt, hurrying all day, and, finding myself in the same place as when I started.
The analogy kept going in my mind. The faster we run, the faster the world around us seems to move. Time itself seems to speed up as we hurry, so that, like the gerbil in the treadmill, we get no farther by going fast than by walking slow.
We think of time as an absolute – as something always passing at exactly the same rate. We measure it in calibrated seconds, minutes, and hours on our clocks and in uniform days and weeks on our calendars, but its not that simple or that linear. Sometimes our hurry makes it pass faster, and once in a while our calmness makes it slow down and it seems that we have time for everything.
There, that evening in the darkened room of my sleeping children, I resolved to reject the adage of hurrying up and to seek instead the illusive but quite wonderful phenomenon of “the speed of going slow.”
A Christian minister friend of mine once told me that God is never referred to in Scripture as being in a hurry or in haste. Christ always had time, even for insignificant individuals. Satan, on the other hang, is often depicted as hurrying – “rushing to and fro in the earth.”
There are of course times to hurry, situations that require haste. The problem today is that hurry has become the rule rather than the exception, the norm rather than the occasional need. A steady diet of hurry produces stress and, as in the gerbil syndrome, seems to make time speed up so that we find ourselves understanding the words of the old farmer who had moved to the faster pace of the city, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.”
One who has perfected a calmer, slower, more peaceful pace can enjoy an occasional rush or hurry – it is for him a refreshing change of pace, an exciting challenge. I thought about this the other day as I rowed my slender racing skull on the glass-smooth water of Bear Lake in Idaho. The sun was setting, the lake’s surface looked like gold, and I slice through its stillness with easy, slow pulls on the oars. With rowing, especially over a long distance, you go smoother and faster when the strokes are long and even. Trying to hurry throws the symmetry – one oar breaks before the other or slices too deep, and you are thrown off your straight course. Too much haste makes your course jerky and erratic, and there is frustration in your stroke rather than the smooth pleasure of rhythm. But with the pace controlled and smooth, you are ready to double-time your stoke and maximize your speed for short busts when another boat challenges you or when you close in on a finish line.
Life is similar. A purposeful but peaceful pace rests us, makes us more aware and sensitive, and make our hurry moments, when they do come, exciting rather than fatiguing.
An article that I happened to read in a dentist’s waiting room attempted to diagnose all the problems of modern, Western man in two words: “Too much.” We try to possess too much, we have too many options that ware too complex, and most of all we try to do too much. In the process there is too little time to think, too little energy left to enjoy.
There are other old clichs that seek to counter the anti-wisdom of the phrase hurry up. I like and believe the one that say, “Haste makes waste” as well as the one that says, “Take time to smell the roses.”
But I think we need a new maxim, one that refers to the power we have to actually slow time down, to find more time by prioritizing better, by not doing so many unimportant or marginally important things. The maxim is essentially the discovery I made that night while watching my children’s faces and their gerbil’s treadmill:
SEEK THE SPEED OF GOING SLOW
When our motto is “hurry up,” there is always too much of things, of jobs, of obligations – and too little time. When we slow down, think more, and prioritize better, we begin to find the deceptive speed of going slow and focus on fewer things and find we have more time.
Next column I will introduce you to a clich that was a favorite of my first boss.
2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.