I hear quite often in work, in social settings and in my avocations, how busy people are. How are you? Busy. It’s a badge of pride and importance to be “busy.” Busy. Busy bees, working around the hive, always moving, always… doing. I heard once someone say “we should be less ‘human doing’ and more ‘human being.’ I thought they were a little crazy. We’re always humans being, and we’re always humans doing, too. That’s what we do. We just… do. As an adjective, to be busy means “to have a great deal to do.” As a verb, it means to ‘keep occupied.’ The first known use of the word is before the 12C. C.E…. so we know people have been ‘actively doing things’ for some time. Hence, humans have always been busy.
Listen to the word in common English conversation now, and the word tends to be laced with more judgment. Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” The quote is intended to be self-reflective and self-directed. We must ask the question, to what are we applying our time? Is it worthy? Is it constructive for our needs and wants? Does it go to enrich us, feed our families, or improve the greater good? WHY are we busy? It’s easy to be busy: cleaning, cooking, laundry, writing, reading, caring for our families, running people around. Much of the time, we’re so stuck in ruts of “doing” that we forget to ask “why” or “is there a better way?” I find myself continually doing something and then wondering if I really need to be doing this task that task. Is there a different way to do it? Can I make myself less “busy” and more productive? These are two very different things.
“Life is simple, yet we continue to make it complicated.” Confucius was right – we are creatures keeping busy making many things complicated, if not everything. Complication is not creation. It’s just a headache waiting to happen. What do we complicate with “busy?” Our relationships. “How are things?” “Really busy, you know?” These opening salvoes in communications with others beg us to talk about what our activities have been. “Hey, look at me! Look how IMPORTANT I am! I’m busy.” People ask me how have I been, and generally I say good. They might ask what I have been up to, or say “I read your latest blog.” That gives us something to discuss. Sometimes people tell me “wow, you’re really busy,” I think “not so much.” I think about the actual activities to which I apply my time and feel like it’s almost all time well spent. Mostly. I also wonder if some of the time I’ve been spending, like wadded up cash in my pocket, is really being put toward worthwhile things. Have I been a slug? Or have I been working on bettering things? My mind is a busy place.
Relationships get complicated, but how? They get complicated in the swamp of judgment. Not judgment of ourselves – judgment of others. Are our friends busy with work? Busy with “play” or busy with children. Ask yourself right now…, “Do I place more importance on one type of busy than on another?” If you’re honest with yourself, you probably do. There is an implicit bias in North America, particularly the United States, that if you’re busy with children, your life has far more importance than if you do not. American businesses are geared toward relieving parents in times of hardship and our social services and whatnot are far more supportive of parental and childhood needs than of those without children. Think, “mental services” versus “child services.” Reflect and be honest – which do you think is more deserving of financial and labor support?
I do not have children of my own, and most of my friends know this. Most of my acquaintances as well. I have other friends who do not have children and hear some of the same ‘feedback.’ There is an underlying judgment in my brand of “busy” versus the parental brand of “busy.” My busy is not as worthwhile or important as raising children. My busy is not as meaningful when it comes to my time, and in fact, my time is worth less than a parent who has children. This has frustrated me for a very long time because it is disrespectful and demeaning. It is discriminatory in nearly the same way we are dismissive of other genders, races, or religions because they are not “of us.” Whether we have children by choice or not, the underlying aspects of our US society is that if you’re not propagating the species, you are not as worthy as someone who did. Let’s examine some of the cultural bias that is out there, beyond my own empirical evidence.
An interesting article on the “childless by choice” stance was written by the Daily Beast, on the book, Shallow, Selfish, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision not to Have Kids. The article, and the book, are an interesting exploration into the psyche of people who have chosen not to have children. The best line of the article is this: “Why is it that so many Americans, no longer content with having their freedom, also seek to dictate what we may think about how they use it? Why must they be coddled and congratulated for every choice?” Each time we make a judgment about another, what we’re really asking for is someone to validate that my choice, or the choices I have made, are valid and worthwhile. My choice was the right one. Your choice, not so much.
Newsweek reported in 2013 that our ability to choose to have children is bad for the country as a whole, our country’s future, and thus we were being selfish for not breeding for a better future. It was, is, our civic duty. Let’s look at some other ideas. In 2015, most children (more than 72%) exited foster care with a permanent connection to a family. Thank god we have more children to fill the homes of foster care parents, who might otherwise be childless. Over 135,000 children are adopted each year, with thousands more waiting to find loving homes. Of non-stepparent adoptions, about 59 percent are from the child welfare (or foster) system, 26 percent are from other countries, and 15 percent are voluntarily relinquished American babies. If we didn’t keep having more children, those ranks would diminish, and we couldn’t have that. My sarcasm has a purpose, I assure you.
No one questions why someone had children. Perhaps they should. Have we not seen enough bad situations where parents are not well-equipped to raise the next generation of human beings? Having children is sometimes more than a simple choice, to be dismissed as thoughtless, selfish, and greedy. There is an overwhelming sense of having to justify yourself -parent or not- that is exhausting. This is true with every decision we make in life and when we judge others: how can we know the motivations, needs, desires, or restrictions placed on another’s life. How can we make a judgment about how they spend their lifetimes? How can be the judge of their “busy?”
I have been accused of judging people’s “busy.” I have heard people say, “she can’t judge my life. she doesn’t have children.” For the most part, this is a misinterpretation. Having been judged often enough for not having children, I am keenly aware of the need to not judge back. Rounding this out, the misinterpretation comes when I am frustrated with people who use the excuse of “I’m too busy with my children. And if you had children, you’d be too busy to do what you do.” It’s the last part that is misrepresented. I accept busy-ness. I do not accept “you have more time because you don’t have children.” We all get 24 hours in the day – there are no exceptions that that law of nature. I do not accept that I am “less” busy because I don’t spend my time fostering the next generation. How we all choose to spend the freedom and time that this country affords us is just that – our choice. Everyone is busy. Everyone is dedicated to something, creating something, involved in something. While you might have chosen children, I chose a different path, for some very specific reasons. I might not feel the need to share those reasons. You might not feel the need to share the reasons for having children. Either way, it’s okay. We need to recognize that we are both busy and that we dedicate our time to our individual, worthwhile pursuits – and keep judgments to one’s self.
We spend so much time judging how other people have dedicated their lives that we might just miss our own in the process.
Knowing oneself is the ultimate goal. The end game. Knowing others is icing, and we could argue whether or not we really know others. Know thyself means that we don’t overcommit, we don’t promise what we can’t deliver, we know our own limitations and can work toward them. Too busy? Complaining? Maybe it’s time to reset your boundaries; after all, you’re the one that set them to begin with. Own your life and don’t let the “busy-ness” own you.
Judge if you will… but it’s time for a nap.