DR: Is there an American equivalent?
SR: Television. Research has shown that approximately 40 percent of the average American's "free" time goes straight down the tube. And again, it serves to remove us from feeling, from the direct experience of our own lives.
DR: What are some practical ways to re-connect, to shift toward life-affirming rhythms?
SR: There are many ways to do it. Meditation, relaxation, listening to music, taking a walk in nature. Sometimes the best thing is to just literally sit still in one place for an hour. This sounds simple, but for many people it's quite difficult. There was a woman in one of my Omega workshops, an environmental scientist who led a workaholic's life: up at five in the morning, kids fed and off to school, work and research all day, then writing up the results in the evening. As an assignment, I told her to sit-just sit there-for an hour under a tree. Describing it afterwards, she said that at first she was more frightened than she had ever been in her entire life. Having the whole familiar structure of busyness removed was truly terrifying. But at some point she had a breakthrough. She felt transported back to a wonderful childhood experience. By sitting still, she had entrained to a slower rhythm, a natural rhythm. Everyone needs to find ways to do this.
DR: You cite statistics in your book to the effect that we could reproduce the 1948 U.S. standard of living working half the time it took back in 1948. With all the "labor-saving" devices that have emerged in the past half-century, why are we working longer hours?
SR: We have made many unwise choices. Basically, we have decided to trade our time for more goods and services. That statistic can be found in Juliet Schor's book, The Overworked American. It means that if we chose to arrange things differently, we theoretically could work four-hour days or take lots of long vacations. There's something very appealing about that.
DR: So why do people continue to work such long hours?
SR: When someone knows that staying longer at work will bring him or her increased income, there is a very strong incentive to stay longer and longer. An internal conflict develops. The person asks, "Do I leave work now and spend some time with my kids before they go to bed, maybe read them a story, or do I keep going on this project here at work?" More and more people are choosing to stay at work.
DR: I remember that when I lived in Washington, DC, staffers on both sides of the aisle in Congress, and people employed by both liberal and conservative groups, all shared a very demanding, fast-paced way of life, where working 60-70 hours a week or more was considered normal. The rationale was that their work was very important. In some cases, I agree that it was. But the human toll was very real.
SR: Definitely. This is true for people in government and in social movements, but it's also true in the healing arts, in social services, and many other places in our society. Seeing the value in the work we do, and recognizing that there is always more to be done, we find ourselves on a treadmill that never stops.
It's important to remember that productivity is not necessarily related to the amount of time one spends on the job. At one point we had a staff member at Omega who was questioned because she wasn't spending as much time in her office as others expected her to, as much as her predecessor had. I knew, however, that she was a superbly productive worker, in large part because she set aside time for thinking and long-range planning. The glorification of "face time," where workers coming in early or staying on the job late are praised, but others, producing as much or more, are not, is counterproductive in the extreme.