TED Talk Tuesday – Carl Honore: In Praise Of Slowness

Preach Carl Honore…Preach. I have always done things slowly (except eating, which I know I need to work on). Things seem to be better when done slowly, fewer mistakes, more enjoyment, less stress. Whenever I am in a rush I feel my heart pound, my pulse quicken, and my chest tighten; it is never a good feeling. But when I have the opportunity to move slowly, to live slowly, I always enjoy it. My perfect day is a slow and easy Saturday morning with great company (gratefully my family) and good food. I know life cannot always be like that, but when it is it’s simply priceless (MasterCard anyone?).

This is what Honroe advocates for, not a massive cultural change but a small cultural shift; to move slowly when it matters.

But there’s a very serious point, and I think that in the headlong dash of daily life, we often lose sight of the damage that this roadrunner form of living does to us. We’re so marinated in the culture of speed that we almost fail to notice the toll it takes on every aspect of our lives — on our health, our diet, our work, our relationships, the environment and our community. And sometimes it takes a wake-up call, doesn’t it, to alert us to the fact that we’re hurrying through our lives, instead of actually living them; that we’re living the fast life, instead of the good life. And I think for many people, that wake-up call takes the form of an illness. You know, a burnout, or eventually the body says, “I can’t take it anymore,” and throws in the towel. Or maybe a relationship goes up in smoke because we haven’t had the time, or the patience, or the tranquility, to be with the other person, to listen to them.

And I had two questions in my head. The first was, how did we get so fast? And the second is, is it possible, or even desirable, to slow down? Now, if you think about how our world got so accelerated, the usual suspects rear their heads. You think of, you know, urbanization,consumerism, the workplace, technology. But I think if you cut through those forces, you get to what might be the deeper driver, the nub of the question, which is how we think about time itself. In other cultures, time is cyclical. It’s seen as moving in great, unhurried circles.It’s always renewing and refreshing itself. Whereas in the West, time is linear. It’s a finite resource; it’s always draining away. You either use it, or lose it. “Time is money,” as Benjamin Franklin said. And I think what that does to us psychologically is it creates an equation. Time is scarce, so what do we do? Well — well, we speed up, don’t we? We try and do more and more with less and less time. We turn every moment of every day into a race to the finish line — a finish line, incidentally, that we never reach, but a finish line nonetheless. And I guess that the question is, is it possible to break free from that mindset?And thankfully, the answer is yes, because what I discovered, when I began looking around, that there is a global backlash against this culture that tells us that faster is always better, and that busier is best.

Right across the world, people are doing the unthinkable: they’re slowing down, and finding that, although conventional wisdom tells you that if you slow down, you’re road kill, the opposite turns out to be true: that by slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better. They eat better; they make love better; they exercise better; they work better; they live better. And, in this kind of cauldron of moments and places and acts of deceleration, lie what a lot of people now refer to as the “International Slow Movement.”

But why is it so hard to slow down? I think there are various reasons. One is that speed is fun, you know, speed is sexy. It’s all that adrenaline rush. It’s hard to give it up. I think there’s a kind of metaphysical dimension — that speed becomes a way of walling ourselves off from the bigger, deeper questions. We fill our head with distraction, with busyness, so that we don’t have to ask, am I well? Am I happy? Are my children growing up right? Are politicians making good decisions on my behalf? Another reason — although I think, perhaps, the most powerful reason — why we find it hard to slow down is the cultural taboo that we’ve erected against slowing down. “Slow” is a dirty word in our culture. It’s a byword for “lazy,” “slacker,”for being somebody who gives up. You know, “he’s a bit slow.” It’s actually synonymous with being stupid.

And good slow is, you know, taking the time to eat a meal with your family, with the TV switched off. Or taking the time to look at a problem from all angles in the office to make the best decision at work. Or even simply just taking the time to slow down and savor your life.

“A few months ago, I was getting ready to go on another book tour, and I had my bags packed. I was downstairs by the front door, and I was waiting for a taxi, and my son came down the stairs and he’d made a card for me. And he was carrying it. He’d gone and stapled two cards, very like these, together, and put a sticker of his favorite character, Tintin, on the front. And he said to me, or he handed this to me, and I read it, and it said, “To Daddy, love Benjamin.” And I thought, “Aw, that’s really sweet. Is that a good luck on the book tour card?” And he said, “No, no, no, Daddy — this is a card for being the best story reader in the world.” And I thought, “Yeah, you know, this slowing down thing really does work.”

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