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Taking The Longer Route
On the importance of doing things for their own sake
My wife walks the dog, that’s her job. It's a job in the sense that she feels obligated to do it, but it’s not really a job because she likes to walk for 4 or 5 km with the dog whenever she can. For me, I feel I could be more productive with my time than aimlessly walking for an hour. My dominant thought is that I could achieve a lot in my work with that time so it’s a bit of a waste.
I’m a bit of a utilitarian in that sense.
How did I get this way?
Am I unique in this line of thinking?
At the same time, I like to take my time with certain things. I like to sit in the kitchen in my chair with a cup of coffee and stare out the window for thirty minutes. I like to take an hour to chill out after the gym on a Saturday morning. So in my own way, I “waste” time too.
But it’s not wasted, is it? (rhetorical question).
This morning, my wife is working so couldn’t take the dog on her usual 5 km walk. So I suggested that I’d do it after I walked our youngest to school. It was rather a run around in an enclosed space in the park than a lengthy walk, but the dog enjoyed itself and that’s better than nothing. Even so, the voice in my head said, you’ve work to do. You could be using this time to get things done.
So I fought my worky brain and walked the dog.
In doing so, there was a mild sense of enjoyment, of just taking time to do something that didn’t have an end in mind—an ulterior motive. I met a fella I know too, he was walking his dog. We chatted about things, random stuff like the temperament of each dog, kids’ football and the local club, working from home and so on.
The point is that doing things as we’ve always done them means we’re likely missing out on the ordinary everyday encounters that give life colour and make it enjoyable. We’re too caught up in utility, in achieving objective things, attainment, and material wealth and all the while we’re missing out on human wealth.
According to Richard Ryan and Ed Deci’s Self Determination Theory of human motivation, these human experiences are the nutriments of life, without which, human beings become ill and suffer. It is through the overbearing pressure to produce, to meet the demands of the market and the workplace that we begin to deteriorate.
Through these practices of just walking for the sake of it, of meeting people by chance and having one-to-one conversations about our lives we make connections and build relationships. These, in turn, fuel our needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness; the three legs on the stool of motivation and well-being.
It’s a constant battle with oneself but it’s one worth having.
Oh, she says well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope.
I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know...
And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.
- Kurt Vonnegut
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