… you’ve got to make the morning last…’ Were Simon and Garfunkel on to something? Our lives have become so busy, and we always feel like we have to be doing, achieving, getting. It impacts on our mental and physical health, and on the planet. What if slowing down was a core value of the New Ism? Mel and Alex discuss in their latest conversation blog.
Alex Matthews: I live a pretty hectic life, juggling several jobs with other stuff that’s going on – and I’m not unusual. I live in London – a busy, hectic, noisy city, with people rushing around all the time, and it’s the opposite of relaxing! I went to the northwest of Scotland with my family for a few days last week. It was beautiful and remote, and there was very little to do except walk and admire the scenery. I was forced to slow down and I felt so much better for it – my fairly persistent backache disappeared, I slept well and felt like a human being again. It made me think whether we should all try to live quieter, slower lives in the New Ism?
Mel Young: I am glad you managed to get some relaxing time. I often think that we have created a world which is intent on becoming faster and faster and bigger and bigger. It’s like we are on a treadmill which is speeding up all the time and we feel we can’t step off because we will lose our place – so we just keep on speeding along with our blinkers on and damage ourselves and society in the process. It is obvious that we need to slow down but it is much easier said than done. Past centuries were much slower paced but was the quality of life better? We can’t go back in time but I do think the issue of the pace we live our lives needs to be a key part of any New Ism.
AM: It’s interesting what you say about the pace of life in the past and whether their quality of life was better. I feel that it probably was in some ways – of course, they didn’t enjoy the healthcare we have, there was more disease, and they didn’t have access to healthy diets like we do, but I’m sure that mental health was better, because life was slower and you could enjoy and appreciate the things that matter. There wasn’t this obsession with getting more and doing more. Now, we are so busy trying to achieve, that we have forgotten how to appreciate and look after the smaller things. We talked a while back about how lockdown had forced us – and many others – to slow down and appreciate things like nature, family, things that are immediately around us, and how we felt better for it.I definitely think that’s something that we should take with us into the New Ism – and I think the planet would be better off as well.
MY: It’s all a question of balance I guess. We need to learn how to relax and take things easy. We seem to have become a planet of collectors. Using holidays as an example, people rush around on cruises, stop at port for a few hours, take loads of pictures on their phone and then dash off again. That’s not really about visiting somewhere, that’s about collecting pictures and ticking off the destination. I am using this as an example, but it seems to be the way we live our lives where we have to do lots of things, go to lots of places, fill the calendar, none of which really adds any depth or meaning to our lives, and it tires us out at the same time. We need to understand that some meditation, for example, is actually good for us, rather than jumping around from event to event, place to place.
AM: So the question is – how do we take a slower pace of life into the New Ism? I think it all comes down to changing our obsession with growth. We’ve talked before about how our obsession with infinite growth – despite finite resources – is the root of many of our environmental problems. I also think it’s the case of our fast-paced, hectic lives – we’re always trying to find ways to grow, to get more money, to achieve more. If we could find new metrics of success – happiness or wellbeing, for example – we might realise that slowing down and appreciating the important, intangible things could help us to achieve that and therefore help protect the planet. It seems like a win-win situation to me!
MY: Indeed, I think it is a win-win situation. But how do we create that systemic change? It is like we are all on a very fast train which is hurtling along and we can’t get off. One or two individuals have worked out how to jump off the train without getting hurt but it isn’t so easy for most people. What we need to do is to slow the train down but in our modern world that sounds like failure. But it isn’t failure, so it is a question of creating a sustainable culture which isn’t destroying the planet and making us feel unhappy in the process. So, it’s about leadership, I think. It is all about who is driving the train and getting it to slow down. There is no coherent leadership in this area and that’s what’s missing.
AM: Yes, it so often comes down to leadership doesn’t it. Our current leaders around the world are mostly focused on growth and productivity, which means we are all rushing to be productive. Our leaders need to shift their focus, recognise that rushing isn’t good for us or the planet, and change what they – and we – call success in terms of the economy but also in our individual lives. I think there are a couple of examples around the world of governments who understand this and are focusing on metrics other than growth – New Zealand and Finland spring to mind.
It will be interesting to hear the views of young people on this on The New Ism podcast (new series coming soon) – they are the leaders of the future and I imagine they will have strong opinions!