Cultivating Patience in the Midst of Productivity
Warning: a post of mostly writing, and pretty long, Do you still want to read it? Well this is what hit me this afternoon. Let me set the scene...
As I sipped on a small black coffee at a cafe near my school, I looked out the rain splattered window listening to the soft music in the background and thought to myself, "What a peaceful moment in the midst of such busy life in Japan." I was waiting for a couple of my friends who I've been helping with their English. So I was watching the clock, ready for their arrival.
My brother gave me a book to read while I am in Japan; so I pulled it out to my marked page and read...
...Our increased consciousness of time encourages us to think of it as simply one more resource. Or more likely, it now becomes the most important resource in our possession. I naturally think of "my time" as my own. It is mine to control. It is a possession, a commodity. This conviction is so deeply rooted in our culture that we regard it as a maxim that "time is money." If one doubts the hold that such a commodified view has over us, consider the ways in which we routinely speak about time: we spend time, buy time, save time, waste time, manage time, and invest time. Within such an environment how can we learn to experience time as a gift? Ours is not the only culture that is finding this increasingly difficult. Reflecting on life in Southeast Asia, Kosuke Koyama writes:
Time was traditionally experienced as being unlimited as a loving mother's milk is unlimited to her baby. Time was generously given. It was not sold as pork chops are sold. There was no business engagements about time. Time was cyclical, that is to say, calm and levelheaded. ...It was communal. Indeed, the essence of our experience of time can be said to be a sense of continuity of communal fellowship. We never experienced time in isolation. Apart from community no time existed.
...Now this has been changed without any consultation with us! Time is now to be understood in terms of business achievement. Time is now located in the export-import companies, motorcycle manufacturers, stores and shops, instead of being in the paddy field, under the coconut trees and in the temple yards. Time is now violently grasped. It was once public community property. It is now private business property. Once it was shared, now it is monopolized. Time does not heal us now. Time wounds us.
Because we routinely view time as our own resource to "spend" as we see fit, interruptions in our daily agenda are inevitable viewed as intrusions. For instance, if I have grasped a two-hour block as my own in order to do some writing, a student who drops by unannounced to discuss a problem is no longer a person but an interruption. And even if I know I shouldn't feel this way, I still often do. Unfortunately, people now expect us to be stingy with our time, which is likely why they find it necessary to always apologize for "taking" so much of our time. Isn't that how we feel? That people have taken (stolen?) from us something that wasn't theirs? Can we really hope to be patient with people as long as we believe that our time is our own? Can we really hope to be patient with people when all too often our assumption (even if unarticulated) is that people are unwelcome intrusions into our preplanned schedules?
Exalting productivity.By precisely segmenting time and transforming it into a scarce resource, the West has created the conditions for the appearance of a new virtue: productivity. Productivity is simply this: a quantifiable amount of work achieved during a specified length of time. The more work per unit of time, the greater the productivity. Few virtues are more exalted in Western societies, a situation that exerts subtle and not-so-tubtle pressures on most every citizen. For example, once productivity is regarded as the key benchmark by which we assess our worth, the question that naturally follows is this: What do you have to show for your time? We usually expect the answer to the question to take some tangible form--a paycheck, a grade on a test, a nice meal. But what happens when demands are placed on our time and there is seemingly nothing to show for it? How do we feel? I can still vividly remember the frustration I felt during the three years I worked on my dissertation. Often weeks would go by with little measurable progress. Although I knew Kim understood the frustration I felt, I still found it difficult not to take her well-meaning inquiries as indictments of my lack of productivity. Otherwise why would her simple question: "How did things go today?" so unnerve me?...
...Or to take a specific example and return to a previous discussion: How many of us feel enormously time-conscious when it comes to our corporate worship? Is it possible that there is a connection between our time-consciousness and our sense that we are engaged in an activity whose productivity is suspect? Does the way we find ourselves talking about worship ("I didn't get anything out of the service today") betray a conviction that worship ought to be productive? (Translation: "Given the time I spent at church today, I'm disappointed that I've nothing more to show for it.") Perhaps our fixation with productivity instills in us a deep sense of impatience, an impatience that might partly be responsible for our lack of joy in worship. How can we joyfully engage in worship if we are continually mindful of all the other more productive things we could be doing with our time (and will be doing once this service is over)?
Perhaps the impatience that characterizes so much of our lives spills over into other areas of our corporate life as well. Do we really have time for each other? And even more specifically, do we have time for those among us who may be an incredible drain on our time and energies? I've been disturbed lately to read in several church newsletters "positive thinking" advice that encourages church members not to let themselves get "bogged down" with depressed and otherwise "negative" people. Is it possible that we've been given the freedom to devote ourselves to one another even if what come of it cannot be measured in any tangible way? In short, have we been given the freedom to be involved with other in ways that my appear unproductive?..."
Then my friends showed up, I closed the book, sipped one last bit of coffee, gathered my things, and taught some English.
- Our lives and even parts of our lives are so separated from each other how can we expect any sort of growth with no clear direction?
- How can we continue to be responsible and treat our commitments with respect if we spend "as much time as we want or should" we those around us?
- I love how this perfectly corresponds to many of Jesus interactions. Sometimes as we read the Bible we don't realize that what Jesus turned into a miracle, started out as a interruption (as we would see it). Take a look at most of the parables. Jesus would be on his way somewhere, then out of the blue, someone comes up to him asking a question or pleading for him to do something. Putting myself in the same situation with how I act normally I'd probably say something like, "You know what, I have a commitment and it would be disrespectful of me to be late. But I'd be happy to come back tomorrow if that would work for you." I talk and think about being respectful of my current commitments but how respectful am I acting to that person?