In “The Busy Trap” (New York Times 06/30), Tim Kreider suggests that we lead busy lives because we’re afraid to face ourselves. We lead busy lives because somehow, in our world, being busy makes us feel like we are good people. We must be; after all, look at everything we are doing!
Is Mr. Krieder on to something?
Jim Taylor focused on this issue in Psychology Today two years ago, describing how it affects our parenting. He suggested that parents may be conveying to their children that they are worthy of love only when they live up to their parents’ expectations, creating “human doings,” children whose self-esteem is overly connected to their accomplishments. Is he on to something?
We are soon approaching the Hebrew month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. If ever there were a month of being and not doing, this is it. We are advised to spend the month in preparatory introspection and self-reflection. Who was I for the past year? And who do I want to be in the year-to-come? What are my life goals? Are my actions and behaviors leading me in the direction I want to go?
Sometimes the answers to these questions are not at all to our satisfaction. According to Mr. Kreider, that’s why we keep busy. If we stop and look at ourselves, we may not like what we see. We may discover that, despite our goals of spiritual growth, we spent most of our time in pursuit of the material. We might find that, although we prioritize time with our family, the majority of our waking hours are spent on our careers. We want to learn and grow yet we spend the evenings in front of American Idol and Desperate Housewives. We want a better marriage yet we’re out with the guys – or girls – or asleep in front of the aforementioned TV shows. Everyone has something. Everyone can fill in their own blanks.
We want to become better people but who has time? We are too busy – with work projects, charitable foundations, the kids’ soccer and piano practices, our own pilates class. So we avoid the real issues, the real decisions, the real choices – over and over and over again.
Then along comes the month of Elul, a whole 30 days to look ourselves directly in the face, a gift from our Father in Heaven, Who knows that this strategy of avoidance will ultimately leave us empty and unfulfilled. It’s time to pull out the mirror and take a good, hard look.
We have a month so we don’t have to confront everything all at once. Self-awareness – and the ensuing change – can be slow and gradual; it should be slow and gradual. But it needs to happen. We need to stop doing and start being so we can see who we really are, so we have a fighting chance of accomplishing our goals.
But when? I have so many commitments. So the Almighty says, “I’ll help you. I’ll give this time to focus, this special time to introspect. Because I am your parent who loves you and I want my children to spend some time being and not doing.”
Only after deep thought does the doing become the right kind of doing; the work that makes us deeper, kinder, more compassionate and closer to our Creator. The doing that keeps us directed to our ultimate goals and not our superficial ones. There are different ways of going for the gold. Elul is the chance for the Jewish people to achieve our spiritual gold medal – through the discipline and hard work that begins with thoughtful reflection.