This was my column in the Greenville News on Christmas Eve.  I hope you find it relevant to your life, or the life of someone you care about!  Because my formatting isn’t working lately, here’s the link to the actual online column, as well.

https://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20081224/OPINION/812240348/1016/OPINION

 

Against the serene backdrop of our theoretically peaceful Christmas season, I believe we are a nation of men and women, boys and girls completely overwhelmed by our schedules.  Do you doubt it?  Let’s look at the facts.

We work, belong to clubs, go to church, go to the gym, volunteer to ‘give back,’ and last of all, try to squeeze in time with our spouses and children.  Our children’s activities dwarf our own in scope and schedule.  One child may, in any given week, have school (with homework), soccer, swimming, dance, horse-back riding, parties, music lessons and tutoring.

For an eye-opening bit of truth, we should all ask ourselves one thunderous, salient question about our pace and our ‘busy-ness.’  The question is ‘why?’  Why do we do it?  Of course, we have to work.  And we enjoy social interaction to a degree.  But why do we do all the rest?  Is it because we believe we have to?  And if so, who said?

I suspect it was that universally powerful group known as ‘they.’  You may have heard of them.  ‘They’ are apparently a quasi-governmental organization based on human anxiety, loneliness and restlessness, funded by assorted membership fees and committed to the advancement of human misery and exhaustion.

‘They say everyone should volunteer.  They say you should work out three times a week.  They say that children need lots of activities and “socialization.”  They say that kids who do certain activities are more likely to get into good colleges and get good jobs.  They say that if you don’t get the right job you’ll be unhappy.  They say you won’t succeed in life without the right degree from the right school.  They say your children really don’t want time with their parents.  They say every kid needs a cell-phone, television and computer in order to be normal.’  I have to tell you, I can’t stand ‘them.’

The truth is that when we listen to ‘them,’ we push ourselves too hard for very little gain.  I know people who are literally slaves to activities; especially the activities of their kids.  They don’t rest and they don’t enjoy life.  They are worn, haggard and out of money.

Furthermore, it is my absolute conviction that most of the time, children actually enjoy staying home and simply playing…no team, no competition, no trophy, no uniform.  Children, far more than adults, understand what it means just to be.

Families that are indentured to activity don’t enjoy one another.  Parents and children seldom sit quietly at bedtime and just listen to one another breathe.  They’re frantic to finish homework, check e-mail, send text-messages and engage in all of the other propellants that serve to keep humans distracted from the terror of monsters like quiet, simplicity, peace and interpersonal communications.

I wish that we could stop listening to ‘them’ and so learn, in part, to defeat our own motion.  If we did, we might eventually overcome our endless desire to please, our need for constant distraction and learn to love just being together.

I mean, what are the dangers of staying home and slowing down?  Fewer friendships?  Many of them were superficial anyway.  Less resume material?  Sanity and calm might make for better interviews and more thorough work.  It would be a wash, at least.  The greatest danger might be the reality of facing our families, day after day, evening after evening, without a reason to walk away, drive away or click away.  (Ghastly, isn’t it?)

But what about the benefits?  Well, if you want practical ones, we might drive less and spend less.  Good for the environment, good for the pocketbook.  When we stay home, when we resist the inner and external urge for constant motion and stimulation, we will find our joys simpler but more wonderful.  We can actually talk, in person! We may play games, work on projects, share meals we cook together or enjoy a movie without the press of the crowd and cost of the ticket.  The proximity and commitment of time together will teach us deep things about those we love.  And perhaps teach us to love ourselves without anyone else’s approval.

This Christmas, this New Year, give yourself the gift of less and the gift of no.  Engage in fewer activities and say no to people who won’t let you slow down.  In the process, I promise that you and your children will end up with ‘more.’  And will more often want to say ‘yes’ to spending time together.

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