I recently read Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad – an account of his trip to the Holy Lands and back, via ship and with other stops, chiefly in Europe, along the way. It is characteristically satirical – hilariously so. No wonder Twain is a staple author in the American canon.
Anyway, as I was reading a bit one morning, this part leapt out at me:
…when a razor has seen long service and refuses to hold an edge, the barber lays it away for a few weeks, and the edge comes back of its own accord. We bestow thoughtful care upon inanimate objects, but none upon ourselves. What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!
I do envy these Europeans the comfort they take. When the work of the day is done, they forget it.
Twain then goes on to elaborate how Americans, in contrast, don’t forget their work once they go home for the day, and so, in effect, don’t cease from it, either.
Later that same day, I happened across a Korean edition of a Kinfolk magazine that also (YES!) contained a few articles in English. Not only had I recently learned about Kinfolk (taglined Slow Living) and been eager to check out a hard copy for myself, but this issue had an article of particular interest to me: “In Praise of Slowness” by Carl Honoré – can you say – or more like spell – serendipity?
The article opens by talking about various anticipations of an “Age of Leisure” throughout (relatively) recent history – predictions made by people ranging from Benjamin Franklin to George Bernard Shaw to President Nixon in the ’50s. (Not too surprised, by the way, that all these false prophets were all men; I mean, what woman ever seriously anticipated an “age of leisure”?)
Honoré goes on:
Could they have been more wrong? If we can be sure about anything in the 21st century, it is that reports of the death of work have been greatly exaggerated. … Work devours the bulk of our waking hours. Everything else in life – family and friends, sex and sleep, hobbies and holidays – is forced to bend around the almighty work schedule. …
While Americans work as much as they did in 1980, Europeans work less. By some estimates, the average American now puts 350 hours more on the job per year than his European counterpart. In 1997, the US supplanted Japan as the industrialized country with the longest working hours. By comparison, Europe looks like a slacker’s paradise. Yet even there the picture is mixed. …
…October 24, the date when, according to some estimates, Americans have worked as much as Europeans do in a year.
Continental Europe has moved furthest down the road to cutting work hours. The average German, for instance, now spends 15 percent less time on the job than in 1980. …
Beyond the great productivity debate lies what may be the most important question at all: What is life for? Most people would agree that work is good for us. It can be fun, even ennobling. Many of us enjoy our jobs – the intellectual challenge, the physical exertion, the socializing, the status. But to let work take over our lives is folly. There are too many important things that need time, such as friends, family, hobbies and rest.
For the Slow movement, the workplace is a key battlefront. When the job gobbles up so many hours, the time left over for everything else gets squeezed. Even the simple things – taking the kids to school, eating supper, chatting to friends – become a race against the clock. A surefire way to slow down is to work less. And that is exactly what millions of people around the world are seeking to do.
Two more things:
- This makes me think of this blogger’s reference (see #3 in her post) to the typical Dutch lifestyle (where part-time work is a pretty widespread thing)…and now more than ever the thought of moving to the Netherlands, Denmark, or Scandinavia seems super-appealing.
- The Slow Movement is def. something I need to learn more about soon.